As Gustavo said in his review, "It's a bold move to open an Iranian restaurant in Irvine next to Wholesome Choice, the garden of grocery delights whose buffet beats most of the county's Persian eateries", but that's exactly what Hen House Grill did. So today we compare and contrast one single dish from both: the beef koobideh, arguably the most popular dish at Wholesome Choice's Persian counter.
I walked into Hen House, ordered their beef koobideh, a dish not actually listed on their menu marquee but pictured on a little-seen placard on the counter. Then I left, went into Wholesome Choice, marched directly to their Persian stall and asked for the #1, the same exact meal.
The price is identical. Both dinners retail for $9.99 in which the buyer receives two tubes of spiced ground beef, molded over a flat metal rod, grilled and unsheathed onto a voluminous amount of rice.
Here now is a breakdown of both.
The rice: Despite the ridiculous amount that Wholesome Choice piles into their Styrofoam (carrying it felt like I had a shotput in there), the two eateries' signature starch were nearly identical. Wholesome Choice's was just slightly more moist. Hen House's was slightly more perfumed. Both provided spoonful after spoonful of fluffy, buttery basmati, more than any one person can finish or know what to do with. Winner by a small margin: Wholesome Choice.
The koobideh: Wholesome Choice's was larger, more uniformly shaped and cooked than Hen House's, which seemed shriveled when examined in a side-by-side comparison. But Hen House's was markedly better in the eating. It possessed a more yielding crumbliness and was imbued with more seasonings that made Wholesome Choice's seem chewier and more muted. Winner: Hen House.
The side items: The tomatoes are tomatoes. Both are roasted to skins of charred blackness. Both were summarily smooshed to become an on-the-fly sauce for the rice. Hen House provided two quarters of a bigger tomato while Wholesome Choice supplied one small one. Where the two purveyors differ is in the rest of the accoutrements. With all orders, Wholesome Choice included a halved white onion, squares of cold flatbread, and lemon in a bag. Hen House packed up a separate Styrofoam of mint sprigs, a quarter of raw red onion, and a freshly baked flatbread the size of a large pizza. Hen House's onion was too strong and spicy to eat raw, while Wholesome Choice's was as sweet as punch, but the rest of Hen House's extras, especially the hot, crisp, and chewy flatbread, makes Hen House's meal just a bit more special. Winner: Hen House.
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The winner this week: Hen House Grill's beef koobideh meal.
Hen House Grill, 18040-A Culver Dr., Irvine, (949) 786-2000, henhousegrill.net
Wholesome Choice, 18040 Culver Dr., Irvine, (949) 551-4111; www.wholesomechoice.com