By Matt Coker
By Keith Plocek
By Edwin Goei
By Edwin Goei
By Matt Coker
By Edwin Goei
By Dave Mau
House of Kabob’s sublime Persian rice used to be just a Lake Forest treat, but now it’s in Irvine, too
92 Corporate Park
Irvine, CA 92606
Is there any starch more glorious than Persian rice? At House of Kabob, it’s loose, free-flowing like sand in an hourglass, and always two-toned with a stripe of saffron in a sea of virgin white. As in most rice-based cuisines, it’s made to accompany meats and to soak up gravy-laden stews; but unlike, say, Chinese steamed rice, one can be content in just eating it on its own.
Even the pan leavings, called tadig—that burnt, crispy, brown crust that forms at the bottom of the rice pot—is sold separately as a featured appetizer with your choice of dipping medium. Meticulously steamed to a wispy fluffiness, the rest becomes plate fodder— each long and slender grain fragrant, slightly tart and faintly salty.
And did I mention it’s in just about everything House of Kabob serves? Order any meal, and they’ll give you enough rice to last two days, maybe three. As good as it is, I’ve not seen a single person finish that heaping mountain in one sitting. Everyone ends up taking home Styrofoam containers of the leftovers because, like I mentioned, even after you’ve gobbled up all the kebabs, you can have the rice as a meal unto itself.
But House of Kabob doesn’t rest on the laurels of its wonder starch. It is, after all, one of OC’s finest purveyors of meats chargrilled on sticks. Those new to it need not look past the sasani for a primer, in which a combo of two petite lamb chops, shish kebab and koobideh is fire-licked and charred to a yin-yang balance of burnt carbon and quivering red meat.
The lamb chops’ carbonized freckles convey smoky notes that tame the gamy tenderness of the beast. The kebabs are just as butter-soft, easily yielding to your bite or, heck, even determined gumming. Filet mignon is flanked by a tomato roasted to a jet-black shine and onions that are just wilted. And that tomato? Mash it into the rice and rake it up like sauce between the morsels.
By far the most winning barbecued specimen at House of Kabob is the koobideh: ground beef molded around a long metal rod, roasted and unskewered to become a moist, melt-in-your-mouth hunk of meaty transcendence. Versions you’ve had before or since are like carpet once you’ve sampled this one. The same can be said of the chicken koobideh, which is juicy, day-glo orange and the length of a snake.
Chicken, whether simmered into shreds for the fesenjoon—a dark-brown, tooth-achingly sugary stew made thick by ground walnuts and fruity by pomegranate—or buried under a rice specialty they make called addas polo, is always cooked honorably. In the latter, you have to dig into the mountain to unearth the poultry hunks, and then tear away at them, so that every spoonful of starch gets a swatch of meat. The rice, again, is hard to upstage; this time, it’s cooked with even more flavoring agents: dates, raisins, saffron and the chicken itself.
Sabzi polo, herbed rice, comes traditionally paired with white fish, here a pristinely flaky fillet that can be grilled or fried to a golden crunch and eaten with a salsa-like concoction of diced tomatoes, cucumbers and red onions.
The appetizer list—just about the only thing not blessed by rice—is full of hummus, flavored yogurts called maust mooiser and maust khiar, and a cooling potato salad as hope-instilling as mom’s homemade. The kashk o bademjon—eggplant mashed to a warm, velvet paste resembling Mexican refried beans—comes drizzled with the yogurty liquid cousin to sour cream called kashk, pulverized dried mint and crispy fried onions. All are meant to be scooped and wiped clean using squares of lavash.
Still, I go back to that that rice; I am nibbling on some as I type this. It’s from an earlier trip I made to House of Kabob’s brand-new Irvine location, which is as cramped and quaintly well-appointed as the original in Lake Forest. This one is cloaked behind an Arby’s and a McDonald’s on Jamboree and Barranca. You might ask: Hey, isn’t that the corner that saw the Iranian protesters all those months ago after the contested election? Well, yes it is. Coincidence? Probably. But trust me, should there be more demonstrations, there will be plenty of that rice to go around. More rice is better than less; and two House of Kabobs are better than one.
House of Kabob, 265 Lake Forest Dr., Ste. A1018, Lake Forest, CA 92630, (949) 460-0800; 92 Corporate Park, Ste. F, Irvine, CA 92606, (949) 261-8005; www.ochouseofkabob.com. Call for hours. Meals $6.99-$17.99.
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