A Persian experience
The Darband Grill in T.O.
By Ron Russ 07/03/2013
868 Thousand Oaks Blvd.
Let me begin by saying, I’m not much of a spontaneous eater. I typically plan my day around where and what I’m going to eat. So the fact that I recently stopped into a Persian restaurant that I’ve never heard of for lunch shows that I still have the ability to surprise myself. My wife and I were driving down Thousand Oaks Boulevard in T.O. when I spotted the Darband sign outside a strip mall. I don’t know why, but as soon as I saw the place, I thought, “How good would lamb kebabs be right about now?” Fast-forward five minutes and one U-turn disagreement, and we were sitting at a romantic table with a glass of white wine in a very aesthetically pleasing Persian eatery.
Darband Grill has a nice clean, open and classy vibe to it. I liked the natural light and the modern design. I was able to soak it in for a while because it was about five minutes after we sat down before someone acknowledged our existence. Unfortunately, when that happened, it was more of a “Do you know what you want?” as opposed to the “Hello. Welcome to Darband Grill.” I’m not a customer who’s expecting great service these days, but a slight form of courtesy and attentiveness is at least a baseline expectation for me.
“Service without a smile” aside for now, we ordered about six plates between the two of us. We began with a simple salad and a bowl of soup called ash-e joe. The salad was your basic iceberg lettuce garden salad, but the soup was a warm bowl of deliciousness, which included barley, beans, herbs and kashk (similar to sour cream). The beans give it a nice texture and the strong herbs are rounded out very well with the creamy kashk. A very flavorful and impressive soup to get us started.
We ran with two additional appetizers: the kashk-e bademjan, which is a dish consisting of roasted eggplant purée, sautéed onions and kashk. It was served with sangak bread, which is made in-house daily! Sangak is similar to naan in appearance, but it was slightly denser and chewier. It still had that nice char on it that you find from fresh bread cooked with fire. The kashk-e bademjan appetizer was a very well-composed dish. I loved the flavor that came from the roasted eggplant, and the accompanying caramelized onions and kashk really made this dish a memorable one. We asked a few questions about the dish and where certain flavors were coming from, but the server never returned with answers.
In a classic case of going from first to worst, the next appetizer was the tadig —crusted rice topped with vegetarian stew.. I was shocked to find that the tadig was literally inedible. The rice was so overcooked that it hurt my teeth to even try to chew it. Also, the stew atop the rice tasted like a sweet cherry-raisin paste, which could have been salvaged in a dessert, but when you’re trying to chew it with rice that is like trying to chew a plastic lid, it was extremely off-putting. Two bites in, we had to give up for concerns of cracking a tooth (not joking).
Luckily, the overall meal was saved with the perfect lamb kebabs, which are skewered and broiled. From my vantage point in the dining room, I could see the kebabs lined up in an orderly fashion; as they were grilled over the open fire and self-basting as they were turned. Yum! For my entree, there were boneless lamb ribeye chunks, which had the perfect fat content to keep the meat tender and juicy. I always try to look for cuts of meat that have a higher fat content because, during the cooking process, the fat has time to render while the outside of the meat develops that flavorful char from the fire. The kebabs were served with basmati rice, broiled tomato and charred onions and green peppers. My wife went with a veggie dish that had the same accompaniments, but the basmati rice is cooked with sour barberries and saffron. The barberries gave the right amount of personality to the rice dish with their sour and tangy notes, but truth be told, my wife spent more time with the kashk-e bademjan and the sangak bread as she felt it was the best dish by far.
We sipped the rest of our sauvignon blanc, enjoyed the classy ambience while our stomachs were stuffed to the brim. Our waiter turned up the charm for the first time as he dropped off the check. Unfortunately, we were still charged for the tadig, which we couldn’t even eat. My taste buds and my eyes want to return to Darband Grill for the ash-e joe and the lamb, but the rest of me does not. My wife, on the other hand, loved the flavors of her meal and seemed much less bothered by the service than I, so we have a split decision on our hands!