Tag Archives: Middle Eastern

The Best Restaurants Are Always in Strip Malls

I’ve realized living in the San Jose area that the best restaurants are in the most run-down looking strip malls next to the dumpiest donut shops and porn stores that you can find. Yas Restaurant is no exception to this. Located in Maple Leaf Plaza on Saratoga (at Williams) it is in the same shopping center as a medical marijuana clinic, a donut shop, and an excellent burrito place. The exterior leaves a lot to be desired. It is incredibly non-descript with the exception of a blue and white striped awning. If I didn’t know it was a restaurant I would have assumed it was a strip club. All the windows have blinds. The doors do not have windows. It is made of white cinder blocks. Frank Lloyd Wright did not design this building.

The interior is not much better. The walls are a pept0bismal pink, the color of the bed pans I used to make barbie doll houses out of as a child. Our white table cloth was dirty. Food stains. This was not starting off on the right foot. The blinds were those folding mini-blinds that I hated as a child. Those off-white spotty kinds that never work. Ugh.

They start you off with free lavash bread and a shy, stuttering gorgeous waitress with a heavy Iranian accent. She was perfectly attentive, answering our questions freely, but probably had not expected us to have so many. The lavash bread was good for lavash bread. I personally find it a little dry and uninteresting.

For appetizers we ordered Ash-E Reshteh, which their menu describes as a “Traditional Persian soup. A combination of herbs, vegetables, lentils, garbanzo beans, and noodles”, and Falafel. I found it creamy and full flavored. The yogurt swirl in the soup added a sophisticated, aesthetically pleasing touch. I thought the yogurt taste would be overwhelming as I tend to find yogurt, but it added a necessary amount of tang and creaminess. I only had a small cup and I would have loved the entire bowl. The falafel were very hot and fresh. They were a little dry because we ordered them without the yogurt sauce. They had a great, freshly made herby flavor. Another excellent dish.

For the main dishes, we ordered Shireen Polo and Kabab Barreh. Their menu describes Shireen Polo as “Orange peels, almond, pistachio, and saffron rice syrup fixed with basmati rice with chicken”.  I found the dark meat chicken pieces, which were on the bone, as incredibly tender, juicy, and flavorful. The sauce was a tomato based sauce, but I could not taste any tomato only the spices that they used, which I liked. The rice they served with it was a little on the sweet side, but it was fluffy and fragrant with the additional texture of pistachios and almonds.

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Restaurant Reviews

As a recent traitor to omnivorism and convert to cooking vegan, I feel very lucky to live in an area with as many options as Santa Cruz has. Going out to eat is not difficult, it’s not as easy as it was before, but it’s definitely do-able and delicious. There are a couple restaurants in Santa Cruz that are purely vegetarian/vegan: Saturn Cafe, Malabar/Asian Rose, Charlie Hong Kong (I think, though I’m not 100%), Alfresco, and Dharmas.  There is also Black China Bakery which has a great variety of fine vegan desserts. I have only been once to the actual bakery, but they sell their desserts at some local grocery stores and coffee houses. Many of the restaurants have a large variety of vegetarian items.

This weekend Andrew and I got food from Yan Flower, Zachary’s, the Falafel House, and Sitar. Ugh, that’s a lot of eating out, but we almost always cook. On Friday night we got food at Yan Flower before going to see Robin Hood.  Before this weekend Andrew was convinced that there was no Chinese food restaurant that was better than competent. I told him that Yan Flower was pretty good compared to all others in Santa Cruz and therefore could possibly be considered “good”.  We got hot tea, vegetable potstickers, white steamed rice, salty and chilli pepper tofu, and Andrew got Mongolian Lamb. The potstickers were very good, but a little hot (as in temperature) and I almost burned my mouth. The rice was actually good for steamed rice: fluffy and tender. The salty and chilli pepper tofu was fried tofu, jalapeno peppers, garlic, and onions. It was not as salty or spicy as I remember it, but the tofu texture was great. Andrew described it as “egg like” and he enjoyed it as much as he could enjoy tofu. He said the Mongolian Lamb was very good as well.

After taking the night to recover from the mediocrity that was Robin Hood (or Gladiator 2010: Time Travel to The Dark Ages), Andrew and I got breakfast at Zachary’s. Zachary’s is an insanely popular breakfast venue on the main drag downtown. It usually would be insanely crowded at 9am on a Saturday, but we were lucky due to the craptastic weather that we are experiencing mid-May.

I got coffee with soy milk, tofu scramble with avocado, vegan home fries, and oatmeal molasses bread. They make their breads in house and they are all amazing, but oatmeal molasses is my favorite. I thoroughly enjoyed the bread with the avocado spread on it and the home fries were tasty. Tofu scramble just isn’t my thing and this had a rotting garlic scent to it. Andrew enjoyed his scrambled eggs, sausage, and pancakes with Earl Grey Tea.

Later that day we went to check out the Greek Festival in downtown Santa Cruz. There wasn’t anything to it this year: just a bunch of different food booths. This was mostly desserts with a gyro place and another place where you could get souvlaki. There was no falafel which was what Andrew was looking for. Instead we ended up going to the Falafel House on Walnut Avenue in downtown Santa Cruz. The Falafel House is a Syrian/Middle Eastern restaurant. I got the vegetarian combo platter which consisted of baba ghanoush, pita bread, taboulleh salad, falafel, and hummus. Now, I fucked up. I ate the regular yogurt sauce on the falafel instead of the vegan tahini sauce. I didn’t know that they were going to put the yogurt sauce on the falafel and I didn’t feel like bothering them to change it.

I enjoyed the falafel, hummus, and pita bread. I liked the baba ghanoush as well which surprised me since I don’t like eggplant. I definitely think I make better hummus though. I didn’t like the taboulleh salad too much, but I still tried to eat it and it wasn’t wretched. I think I don’t like taboulleh. Another great thing about the Falafel House is the fact that they are always playing Syrian MTV or some other music video channel. Oh and they’re onion rings are amazing.

Today we went out for lunch/dinner instead of cooking because we were bummed after the Sharks losing the first game of the conference finals. Andrew got pizza at Pizza My Heart (a local San Francisco Bay Area chain that began in Capitola). My favorite slice at PMH is pesto. It was the first thing with pesto that I ever liked and converted me to a pesto lover. Screw you campus dining halls for making me afraid of pesto for so long.

At Sitar, I got Chana Masala (vegan chickpea/garbanzo bean curry), vegan naan, basmat rice, ice berg lettuce crap in a compartment, and raita (which I didn’t eat since it’s made with yogurt). The chana masal had wonderful texture: thick sauce, creamy garbanzo beans, melt in your mouth pieces of onion, but it the curry could have been spicier. The rice was a good texture and the naan was good.

Baked Yogurt Chicken and Sweet Iranian Rice

This was a rather complicated and time consuming dinner to make. I wanted to cook something that was different than what I had been eating for the past few days (jambalaya rice and beans) and something out of my around the world cookbook. I had never cooked Middle Eastern food before so I tried out two recipes out from that section and invited my friend Ian over for dinner. He is a garbage disposal so I figured that if it turned out bad he would still eat it.

Baked Yogurt Chicken

Now this recipe originally called for poussins. I’m not exactly sure what a poussin is. I think its a young spring chicken. Whatever it is Safeway doesn’t generally carry it. What Safeway was carrying on sale yesterday was chicken leg quarters. Six of them for $2.50! I used these instead of poussins. I found that the dish lacked a little flavor. Perhaps this was due to my exclusion of the saffron threads.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup yogurt (I used non-fat)
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil (I used vegetable oil since I didn’t have olive oil)
  • 1/2 large white onion, grated
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1/2 tsp. paprika
  • 2-3 saffron strands (now I didn’t use saffron because it is expensive, but I bet it gives amazing flavor and color)
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 2 chicken leg quarters, fat cut off and washed
  • salt and pepper

1. Blend together yogurt, olive oil, onion, garlic, paprika, saffron (if you’re using it), and lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper.

2. Place the chicken leg quarters in a shallow dish, pour over the marinade and then cover and allow to marinade for at least four hours in the fridge. I told you this recipe was time consuming.

3. Preheat the oven to 350° F. Arrange the leg quarters in a foil lined baking dish and bake in the oven for 45-55 minutes, basting until cooked.

Sweet Iranian Rice

Texture wise this was one of the best rice dishes I’ve ever prepared. Rice never turns out well on my stove top. This one turned out light and fluffy with the nice crunch of carrots and slivered almonds. I found the dish to be too sweet as the only side to almost bland chicken. I think it would be nice served with some other dishes as well or as a dessert.

Ingredients

  • 1 orange
  • 3 tbsp. sugar
  • 2 tbsp. melted butter
  • 3 carrots cut into julienne strips
  • 1/2 cup mixed pistachios, almonds, and pine nuts (I only had almonds)
  • 1 cup basmati rice soaked in salt water for two hours
  • 2-3 saffron threads (again I didn’t use these)

Procedure

1. Cut the peel from the oranges in wide strips using a peeler, then cut the peel into thin shreds.

2. Place the strips of peel in a sauce with enough water to cover and bring to a boil. Simmer for a few minutes, drain and repeat this process until you have removed the bitter flavor from the peel. It took me three times.

3. Place the peel back in the pan with 1 tbsp. of sugar and enough water to cover. Bring to a boil and then simmer until water is reduced by half. Set aside.

4. Heat 1 tbsp. of melted butter in a frying pan and fry the carrots for 2-3 minutes. Add the remaining sugar and 4 tbsp. of water and simmer for 10 minutes until almost evaporated.

5. Stir the carrots and half of the nuts into the orange peel and set aside. Drain the rice, boil in salted water for 5 minutes, then reduce the heat and simmer very gently for 10 minutes until half cooked. Drain and rinse.

6. Heat the remaining butter in the pan and add 1 tbsp. of water. Fork a little of the rice into the pan and spoon on some of the orange mixture. Make layers until all the mixture has been used.

7. Cook gently for 10 minutes. Put a lid on the pan and steam for another twenty minutes.