By Frank Sabatini Jr.
It isn’t uncommon for Mediterranean restaurants to scramble into their menus the cuisines of neighboring countries, particularly in those owned by Middle Easterners. At Kabob Village, the bill of fare captures various, distinct dishes of Greece, Iran and Afghanistan while celebrating the charbroiled meat kabobs all three nations share in common.
The 8-year-old restaurant, located next door to Bookstar/Barnes & Noble in a narrow strip plaza on Rosecrans Street, recently came under new ownership. We were told by our affable Iranian waitress that her “boss” is from Afghanistan, and has since added a few of his native dishes to the menu.
Among them is bulani, which are flaky turnovers filled with a delightful mélange of seasoned potatoes, leeks and green onions. Served six to an order, they resemble Indian samosas, but with a lighter fry and thinner casings. If I hadn’t arrived salivating for flame-grilled meat, I would have opted for a second round of these triangular gems all for myself and called it quits.
Another Afghani starter is bouranee baunjan featuring sautéed (or baked) eggplant spiked with coriander, turmeric and tomatoes, and finished with yogurt sauce. I’ve had it as a side dish at Khyber Pass in Hillcrest and loved it, but at the urging of our waitress, we sprung for the Persian Shirazi salad instead.
“It’s the popular salad from my city, Shiraz,” she proudly noted while assuring it pairs well with both the accompanying grilled pita bread and the Persian-style zereshk rice we would choose on our “supersize” kabob plate.
She was correct. The medley of cucumbers, tomatoes, onions and fresh parsley — dressed in lemon juice and a little olive oil — equated to healthy eating with a bright, fresh crunch.
My companion opted for avgolemeno soup, a traditional Greek recipe combining chicken broth, egg-thickened lemon juice and rice. In deluxe versions, which this wasn’t, shredded chicken makes it all the more savory. Although when the lemons overpower the broth, which they did here, the acidity cruelly annihilates the soup’s comfy essence.
Kabobs can be ordered in mini or large sizes. We chose the super-size combo plate featuring three different large ones: marinated chicken breast, filet mignon and ground sirloin (koobidah). But the kitchen had run out of the latter, so we substituted it with lamb.
The chicken was tinted orange after marinating in saffron and other spices for 24 hours, much like how the poultry is prepared at Bandar in the Gaslamp Quarter. It was pretty on the eyes and crazy-good in the mouth, albeit a tad drier in comparison.
We couldn’t distinguish the difference between the lamb and filet mignon in terms of looks or flavor. Both were slightly chewy, but delectably seasoned and charred. We either ended up with two of the same kabobs or our taste buds had malfunctioned.
The accompaniments were excellent: fluffy rice with a strip of yellow, saffron-kissed grains running through the middle, and yogurt-mint tzatziki speckled with grated cucumber.
Generic house wines and bottled beers, including Mythos Greek, are available, although we sprung for the Persian black tea from a self-serve station near the entrance. It was strong with a fruity finish, a fine come-on to baklava, chocolate mousse cake or tiramisu made offsite by a private baker, we were told.
The atmosphere at Kabob Village is relatively tranquil, considering it looks out to a busy thoroughfare. Burgundy and avocado-green walls are complemented by various ersatz such as Persian statuary and plaster relief works of Grecian gods. Indeed, the décor makes it clear that everything from hummus and basmati rice to tabouli, gyros, lamb shanks and other Greek and Middle Eastern foods are served here.
—Frank Sabatini Jr. is the author of “Secret San Diego” (ECW Press), and began his local writing career more than two decades ago as a staffer for the former San Diego Tribune. You can reach him at email@example.com.