A near-per­fect Per­sian

Sights and smells are trans­port­ing ex­pe­ri­ence

Sun Sentinel Broward Edition - Showtime - Broward - - DINING - By Michael Mayo

Long­time South Florida res­i­dents know that many din­ing trea­sures lurk in drab and unin­spir­ing en­vi­rons. Sim­ply put, don’t judge a restau­rant by its strip mall. The lat­est proof is tucked in a cor­ner of a worn Sun­rise shop­ping cen­ter, across the street from Hoot­ers and a strip club. Kababi Café by Kuluck is an ut­terly de­light­ful sur­prise, a taste of Tehran in western Broward. When din­ers walk in, they are trans­ported to an­other world, with a pleas­ant spice scent drift­ing across the lounge area and large din­ing room. It is a mel­low aroma, not as pun­gent as In­dian curry, but ex­otic enough to let your nose know that you are in for some­thing dif­fer­ent. The ke­babs, stews and aro­matic rice dishes could be mis­taken for Turk­ish, but many are flecked with sweet and sour fruits fa­vored in Per­sian cui­sine, in­clud­ing pomegranates, raisins, cher­ries and bar­ber­ries.

Each ta­ble has a wide shaker of sumac, a pow­dery crim­son dust that brings a tart and al­most lemony zest to all it is show­ered upon. Slightly sweet grape leaves ($7.95) are stuffed with rice and mint. Braised lamb shank ($17.95) is served with fluffy saf­fron bas­mati rice, tinted green from soft lima beans and wisps of finely chopped fresh dill. The won­der­ful trio plat­ter ($32.95) fea­tures grilled rows of trimmed ten­der­loin that looks like skirt steak, herbed ground beef and mar­i­nated chunks of white-meat chicken or, for $5 more, bone-in pieces of suc­cu­lent Cor­nish hen. The food is fla­vor­ful without be­ing over­pow­er­ing, show­cas­ing spice without sweat-in­duc­ing spici­ness.

Hamid Shirdel, a vet­eran Broward restau­ra­teur and Iran na­tive who opened Kababi Café in 2014, de­scribes Per­sian cui­sine as “mid­dle of the road.” The meats

Kababi Cafe by Kuluck

3828 N. Univer­sity Drive, Sun­rise 954-909-4133 or KababiCafe.com Cui­sine: Per­sian with ke­babs, stews, many veg­etable items and aro­matic rices Cost: Mod­er­ate. Sal­ads, soups and starters cost $4.95 to $9.95, main cour­ses $14.95-$32.95 ($95 for huge fam­ily plat­ter), desserts $6. Hours: 11:30 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Mon­day-Thurs­day, 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Fri­day, noon-mid­night Satur­day, noon-9 p.m. Sun­day Reser­va­tions: Ac­cepted Credit cards: All ma­jor Bar: Full bar with spe­cialty cock­tails and hookah lounge Sound level: Con­ver­sa­tional but can get loud dur­ing week­end belly danc­ing per­for­mances Hand­i­capped ac­cess: Ground level Park­ing: Free lot are ha­lal, and no pork is served, and there are many op­tions for veg­e­tar­i­ans. Per­sian food is a blend of the many in­flu­ences found in a cra­dle-of-civ­i­liza­tion coun­try in the Mid­dle East that is not Ara­bic (Farsi is the dom­i­nant lan­guage). Em­pires and shahs have come and gone, re­placed by ay­a­tol­lahs and up­heaval and a U.S. des­ig­na­tion as be­ing part of an “Axis of Evil,” but warmth, hos­pi­tal­ity and strong fam­ily bonds are the hall­marks of Per­sian cul­ture.

And so it is at Kababi Café, where Shirdel’s 26-year- old daugh­ter, Chelsea, works the front of the house, and his 83-year-old fa­ther can be found clean­ing up and help­ing out dur­ing the daily lunch buf­fet. Ser­vice is gra­cious and friendly, and our non-Mid­dle East­ern server du­ti­fully ran to the kitchen to get our ques­tions an­swered when they arose. “Very good or­der,” he com­pli­mented af­ter our crew se­lected a wide range of dishes. Each was very good. Noth­ing went amiss. When space be­gan get­ting tight at our square four-top ta­ble, he opened up col­lapsi­ble leaves that ex­panded it into a cir­cle. That’s my kind of place.

Our server cheer­fully sug­gested pack­ing some house­made roulette cake to go when a mem­ber of our party was feel­ing tired, and we de­clined dessert. I’m glad he did, be­cause the tra­di­tional Per­sian sponge cake ($6), with cir­cu­lar lay­ers rolled around sweet cream and rose­wa­ter, trav­eled well from the car into my belly.

The restau­rant is big and com­fort­able, 6,000 square feet with nearly 200 seats, di­vided be­tween the main din­ing room, where belly dancers per­form on week­ends, and a bar and hookah lounge, where a younger crowd in­hales fla­vored wa­ter pipes and sips craft cock­tails cre­ated by Chelsea (try the de­li­cious dragon-berry mo­jito, $11). Al­though some ob­ser­vant Mus­lims have given Shirdel grief for serv­ing al­co­hol, he says Kababi Café is tol­er­ant and wel­com­ing to all, with reg­u­lar cus­tomers who in­clude Rus­sians, Is­raelis, Euro­peans and Mid­dle Eastern­ers. Some travel from Mi­ami, Melbourne and Naples, Shirdel says.

The space once housed an Ital­ian restau­rant, and Shirdel kept the in­te­rior de­sign of brick walls and faux store­front dis­play win­dows and dressed them with Per­sian touches, such as rugs and Scheherazade sculp­tures. The pace is re­laxed, with din­ers al­lowed to stag­ger their or­ders. When Shirdel adds a new dish to the menu, he of­ten peeks from the kitchen to see if cus­tomers en­joy it.

PHO­TOS BY TAIMY AL­VAREZ/STAFF PHO­TOG­RA­PHER

A skewer at Kababi Cafe by Kuluck holds filet mignon, bone­less chicken and beef kabob. The Per­sian restau­rant is in an unas­sum­ing strip mall in Sun­rise. Step in­side, and you are in­stantly in an­other world.

Dill and lima bean bas­mati rice is served with lamb shank.

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