Lunchtime for intown workers looking for a quick fix is a monotonous endeavor. Sandwich. Salad. Burger. Repeat. Most nearby ethnic options are either dumbed down or too fancy for their own good. Kabobee (609 Whitehall St., 404-688-8885, www.kabobee.com) is neither.
Reza Ashtiani chose to open a restaurant specializing in quick and simple Persian cuisine in an odd quasi-residential part of Castleberry Hill. The self-standing building has many large windows that permit the sun to whitewash the already spartan — and kind of antiseptic — space. You will find none of the typical warm colors or cultural accents you see at more upscale Persian establishments. The only color comes from the charmingly cheesy mural of some hip Charlie the Tuna look-alikes leftover from the fish shack that previously occupied the space.
While the restaurant could use a few decorative touches, the owner and his staff do a commendable job of making you feel at home. The restaurant has only been open for a short while, but Ashtiani already seems to be acknowledging an eclectic mix of regulars.
The simple and utilitarian menu is a mix of grilled meats and seafood (served in platter or wrap form), puckery salads, rice, sweets and made-to-order flatbread. The bread preparation is the most impressive aspect of the restaurant. A young guy flattens homemade dough onto a domed contraption resembling an oversized powder puff minus the puff. After smoothing the dough and spraying it with a fine mist of water, he dons enormous heat-resistant gloves and drops the bread into the intensely hot oven. The bread is denser than naan with a similar amount of chew and depth of flavor, but lacking much char. Is it the drop-dead best bread you’ll ever eat? No. But it sure is fun to watch the guy make it.
Of all the kabobs, the ground beef version is the most tender and flavorful. The beef is finely minced and scented with notes of classic Persian spices such as turmeric. Each kabob is placed next to a large mound of buttery Persian-style Basmati rice decorated with a row of the same rice colored red and yellow with saffron, a blackened tomato, garden salad, flatbread and a tiny plastic container of sumac. The kabobs are good, but like the bread and tomato garnish, they suffer from not enough time on the fire for an adequate amount of caramelization to occur.
The steak kabob is just as juicy as the koobideh, but the sliced pieces of beef appeal to one’s carnal desire to bite into a hunk of charred, juicy meat. You can get both types with the Sultani kabob, one of the many combos. The chicken kabob is sunshine yellow from a lemon- and turmeric-infused marinade. The poultry sears more easily than the beef items, but it lacks salt. The restaurant occasionally offers lamb kabobs as a special. Since the menu is mostly beef, it’s a nice change of pace. The meat isn’t too gamey and the inherent fatness prevents it from drying out too much. A side of the Must-O-Khiyaar (an herby cucumber and yogurt salad) is an ideal foil to the lamb. And a little square of dense and sticky baklava to finish the meal is never a bad idea.
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