Soheila Siadate is an amazing chef, working quietly in the kitchen of her little Persian restaurant, Green Rice Kabob, in a Huntington Beach strip mall, where she turns out some wonderful cuisine. Chef Soheila has a distinctive way with Middle Eastern and Persian classics. Dishes we have all eaten many times are subtly transformed by her magic touch.
Our first taste, a dipping oil for pita bread, studded with garlic and chili and sprinkled with a little Parmesan, hinted at good things to come.
The appetizer plate provided an introduction to her deft use of seasonings. Each item was just a little better than we expected. We have tasted a lot of falafel in our day but none as good as these. What distinguished them was the interior texture, which was not the usual puree but was punctuated with lovely bits of garbanzo beans and sesame seeds, then seasoned to perfection. Equally good was the super-crunchy but not-at-all-greasy fried golden-brown exterior.
The grape leaves were also especially good. The leaves were not overly briny as they often can be. They were stuffed with rice that had absorbed her unique lemony spice mixture so that the texture was very dense and flavorful.
The hummus tasted bland at first, and we were thinking that perhaps it could have used more salt, lemon or garlic, but once we got over our expectation of what it should taste like, we found ourselves going back to it again and again, until it was all gone. The flavors were subtle but addictive.
Kashk bademjan is her version of Persian eggplant spread, which has an intriguing, smoky taste. Sautéed eggplant and onions were accented with mint and topped with a liquid whey protein called kashk that is similar to yogurt or sour cream.
The platter was rounded out with three salads: parsley with bulgar wheat (tabbouleh), yogurt, mint and cucumber (maust khiar), and tomato, onion and cucumber (shirazi). They were refreshing complements to the other appetizers.
We were eager to try the lamb shank, but someone had just taken the last two portions home. Luckily, Soheila's special for the evening was lamb shoulder prepared in the very same manner, slow-cooked and spiked with aromatic dark spices. The meat was meltingly tender and juicy, if a little fatty, but such is the nature of this cut of meat. The seasoned juices made a wonderful sauce that filled the bottom of the dish. We were also lucky that they had green rice that evening that came as a side dish because sometimes it is not available. This fluffy, buttery basmati rice is permeated with fresh chopped dill and is simply delicious and worthy of being part of the restaurant's name.
Our other entrée was equally good. Koobideh are ground chicken meatballs, stacked on skewers. We like the fact that they had been made from the more flavorful, juicy dark meat, which was once again enlivened by a complex mixture of spices. All entrées come with basmati rice, a roasted tomato and a roasted jalapeño. Green rice may be substituted for a small additional price.
The final fillip was yet another variation on a standard. The house-made baklava was the least sweet version of this dessert that we've ever tasted. Most are drowned in honey and cloyingly sweet. There was less filo dough, just a thin top and bottom layer, and lots more lightly sweetened, chopped walnuts and pistachios. If you are a baklava fan, order more than one because they are small.
Lace draped curtains cover the high front windows and hide the parking lot from view. Persian throw rugs and food-themed photographs create a bit of atmosphere in yet another of our Huntington Beach strip mall finds. We think you will be delighted with the food as well as the very reasonable prices.
ELLE HARROW and TERRY MARKOWITZ were in the gourmet food and catering business for 20 years. They can be reached for comments or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Green Rice Kabob
Information: (714) 843-0655 or greenricekabob.com
Where: 17441 Beach Blvd., Huntington Beach
When: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily
Appetizers: $5 to $14
Entrées: $9.98 to $27.98
Desserts: $3 to $9