To unearth the biggest diamonds you have to dig deep. To swim in the most secluded beaches you have to get on a plane. And to find one of the best Persian restaurants in Orange County, you have to drive to Lake Forest. That's right. Lake Forest -- the bedroom community that's just a blip in the radar of most OC dwellers, existing only as a set of exits on the 5 South that signal you've missed the Irvine Spectrum off-ramp and it's time to turn around.
You'll find it several clicks away from the freeway (unless you're coming from the 241). But when you make the journey, as I did, you have to persevere: Keep going, even if you think there couldn't be anything but expensive houses down yonder.
When you do finally arrive at House of Kabob, it will be in a strip mall, albeit an abnormally posh one.
Then you walk inside. It will strike you as the kind of joint you wish you had in your own hood. It's cramped but comfy, and as nicely appointed as a Starbucks.
At dusk, they bring out the votive candles, setting it on each table next to a vase of fake, plastic flowers and a shaker of sumac. There's a flat screen monitor that only the servers watch when they're not bringing out huge plates of food. In the corner, there's a shelf with books that no one reads.
The menu is the only reading material you need.
The list of appetizers are full of hummus, and flavored yogurts called maust mooiser and maust khiar. All are meant to be scooped with squares of pita bread, served in a wicker basket and refilled until all bowls are wiped clean.
Their kashk o bademjon ($4.99) is also a dip, designed to be eaten with plenty of pita. It's essentially mashed eggplant that resembles Mexican refried beans. But, of course, the stuff tastes nothing like it.
On top of the velvety paste, there's a generous drizzle of kashk (a yogurty liquid that will remind you of sour cream), pulverized dried mint and crispy fried onions. The later amps the savory-flavor quotient past boring old baba ghanoush.
For the main course, you can't go wrong with the kabobs (duh!). But why not a sampler served with the fluffiest rice you'll ever chew? That's exactly what the sasani ($16.99) is -- a combo plate of two petite lamb chops, shish kabob, and koobideh. All are fire-licked and charred to a Zen-like balance of burnt carbon flavor and quivering red meat.
The lamb chops bode the best from this treatment. Its black charry bits of crust convey notes of smoke that tames the gamy tenderness of the beast. You won't want to stop gnawing until every scrap of marinated flesh is cleaned off the bone.
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But that's not to say the others aren't worth praise. Their kabobs are so soft it can be eaten with dentures or heck, even by determined gumming. It is filet mignon after all, flanked by a tomato, roasted to a jet-black shine and onions that are just wilted.
The most surprising of all the barbecued meats is the koobideh, especially if all you've known is the koobideh at Wholesome Choice, which will taste like carpet after you've had it here. By comparison, House of Kabob's koobideh is a moist, melt-in-your-mouth tube of ground beef transcendence.
For the sweet-tooth, there's bastani ($2.99), a house-made ice cream that functions simultaneously as dessert and breath freshener since it's intensely perfumed with rose water. It may be icy, a little coarse, but hey, I did say it was home-made. Home-made, right here, in Lake Forest.
House of Kabob (949) 460-0800 20651 Lake Forest Dr # 101 Lake Forest, CA 92630