Sunday, March 27, 2011
4651 Nolensville Road
The humble falafel gets a major makeover at the new Persian restaurant Shish Kabob and it’s a long time coming. The crunchy chickpea favorite often comes in ball form and seems, quite frankly, stuck in a rut at many Nashville kabob joints and gyro stands. The Shish Kabob version is flat, lightly fried and popping with spices. It’s just one indication that Shish Kabob is setting a new standard for Middle Eastern food in Nashville.
Hikmat Gazi goes to great lengths that elevate that falafel. He imports the spice mix from Lebanon via a distributor in Detroit. He’s paid quite a bit of attention to the falafel and that attention to detail extends throughout a wide-reaching menu. The name may sound familiar. Mr. Gazi started the House of Kabob, before selling to his cousins, and also the House of Gyros, both of which are still going strong. With Shish Kabob, even the décor proclaims a commitment to quality. The rich, dark red walls are accented by black table cloths and tasteful decorations of Persian culture. It’s every bit a dining room.
Cilantro and feta cheese start each meal, a fresh accompaniment to the puffy flatbread. You’ll also find a small bowl of light soup at the beginning of the meal. One day brings a chicken noodle broth with strong curry undertones and on another day a vegetable version. Both have a lovely flavor.
As the name implies shish kabobs are a specialty here and the menu lists 20 versions: chicken, lamb, Cornish game hen, salmon and liver. The Sultani is the traditional mix of barg beef (marinated with saffron, garlic and onion) and kubideh (ground beef and lamb). The kubideh is well-seasoned and the barg has a mild and subtle flavor. The char grilled tomato on the side provides a juicy tang to go with the meat. There is a massive mound of basmati rice, helping the dish live up to the name Sultani, which means sultan’s feast.
Khoresht Ghormeh Sabzi is a dense, fragrant stew of beef, herbs, beans and spices. It goes well with the fluffy basmati rice and fresh side salad of cubed tomato and cucumber. There is a brief nod to what is listed as Greek tastes on the back of the menu: gyros, a club sandwich and oddly a Philly cheese steak. With all of the Persian dishes just waiting to be sampled, we’re not sure why any of those “Greek” options would be a choice. Perhaps it’s designed with the kids in mind. We can imagine it might be tough to get junior partake in Khoresht Ghaymeh split pea stew.
Veggie Eater: The emphasis here is meat and there are limited veggie offerings. However, quality shines over quantity. On the first visit, we opted for the mast-o-musir. I must admit I’d never come across this before. It is a dried shallot yogurt dip; slightly tangy and sweet. It goes well with the bread and pita. As noted above by Meat Eater, the falafel is simply wonderful. This version is made from fava beans and chick peas, seasoned with garlic, onions, parsley and cumin. These are fried discs instead of balls and the result yields crunchy on the outside and still moist in the interior. On the second visit, I opted for the veggie plate. It was a heaping platter of expertly grilled onions, peppers, and mushrooms served atop rice. Salad (diced cukes, tomatoes, and onions) and yogurt sauce is served on the side. This makes for a wonderful do it yourself sandwich when combined with the flat bread. We did actually make it to dessert on one occasion and had the Persian Ice cream with saffron and rose water flavor. These may be somewhat exotic flavors to some and one can be taken aback at the first bite (kind of like eating perfume). Be patient- your palate begins to wake up and understand. The flavors blend well with the creamy base.
Meat Eater: That rose water and saffron ice cream still lingers on my taste buds. It’s an excellent dessert. Be sure to drop by the other Gazi enterprise next door- Sulav International Market. It’s a well-stocked store with five varieties of bulk feta from across the globe, a number of torshi options (pickled veggies), dates, olives and bulk beans. They bake the flatbread and thinner lavash on the spot to serve both the restaurant and the store. You’ll probably want some for home. Shish Kabob is a fantastic addition to the Nashville dining scene. We’re hoping the falafel competition heats things up around town.
We paid $30 with tax and tip on one visit and $41 on another visit.