Bandar Persian Cuisine 825 Fourth Ave., Downtown 619-238-0101
The sycophantic ravings on the carryout menu let me know exactly what sort of establishment I was in.
“Finest Persian cuisine in the city,” raved one. “Area's top restaurant,” reads another. Indeed, for the last six years, it seems Bandar has been raking in compliments and accolades on the wonders of its fine Persian fare. Personally, I find that with most Greek, Persian or Middle Eastern food, I can get just about the same quality at a smaller café-style place as I can at some fancy joint where the prices run about triple the café rates.
But in the face of all these accolades and top-10 restaurant list placements, how could I resist? Fortunately I was dining with two of my more cynical, skeptical friends and hopefully they would keep my reckless penchant to be manipulated by good press to a minimum.
Unfortunately, our dining experience began on a down note, the hostess led us immediately toward perhaps the worst table in the room. Cramped in a corner between two other tables-while numerous others stood empty-our designated table and our hostess' general attitude made us feel about as welcome as Ted Nugent at a vegan convention.
Switching to a more suitable table as the hostess looked on indifferently, we got our first, and only, glimpse of our waitress, curtly taking our order before vanishing into the kitchen, never to be seen again.
Before I deride the entire Bandar staff, a quick note on drinks: Throughout the course of the meal, the levels of all three water and three iced tea glasses never dipped below the three-quarter full mark, and they were refilled not in a clumsy rush after every sip, but subtly, giving you the impression that you had a sort of magic goblet that constantly replenished itself.
“This would be a nice place to come if you just wanted to eat and be left alone,” remarked one of my friends.
We actually saw one man get up and walk across the restaurant to speak with his waitress after minutes of attempted signaling had fallen on blind eyes. Luckily, someone soon brought us some bread and we could direct our collective ire towards inanimate objects.
“I didn't know tortillas were Persian,” was the first impression after tasting the cold “flat-bread.” Indeed, the bread was thin, bland and cold. It seemed that it would be good for dipping, but unfortunately, it was only accompanied by hard squares of butter. Fortunately, in a move of great foresight and understanding, we had ordered some dips for appetizers.
The first wasn't really a dip, but it went on the bread just the same: Kashk o'bademjan, a plate of eggplant blended to a slightly chunky paste consistency, mixed with onions, mint and garlic, then topped with yogurt. This dish allowed us to forgive our hostess and have some pity for our hardworking waitress (although for $8, a larger portion would have been nice). The other dips (each $6) were simply yogurt mixed with your choice of shallots, cucumbers or spinach. All quite tasty but none are going to bring about world peace nor raise our waitress' tip over 10 percent. I know they're just dips, but coming off the eggplant I had high hopes.
Someone-not our waitress-soon brought our entrées. We chose the specialty of the house, Cornish Game Hen, and two other dishes the menu labeled “highly recommended”-boneless lamb kebabs and adas polo.
The hen was nice and tender, charbroiled and served with the traditional tomato side and a bed of basmati rice. “I think we may be up to 15 percent,” my friend commented between bites of hen and rice. The lamb was a bit tough, not allowing for fork cutting, and a bit on the gamy side. The lamb's saving grace however was the “Bandar” sauce, a light, peppery glaze that added just enough zest to almost completely mask the gaminess of the meat and transform it into an enjoyable meal.
The coup de grce, however, was the adas polo. Served with juicy marinated chicken kebobs, adas polo is a basmati rice, lentil, raisin, date and saffron mixture that calmed my righteous indignation at the service and allowed me to relax and let the majestic flavors go to work on my taste-buds.
Sitting in the marble-lined, pristine walls of Bandar with large green-leafed plants hanging down from the second floor, forking down mouthfuls of the rice ambrosia at an unhealthy pace, I was able to catch a glimpse of the splendors of Ancient Babylon. And my regal delusion granted concessions to the staff and wrote off the service to a bad night. And although my aforementioned premise of finding similar quality at a more reasonable price was certainly not refuted, we all left full and quite satisfied.