Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Darband Shishkabob in Houston


The Darband Shishkabob – HTX Eats
5670 Hillcroft Ave, Houston; 713-975-8350

Art and I went to Houston a couple of weeks ago to meet some clients and had a hankering for some shishkabob for lunch, on the way to the meeting. According to all the self-proclaimed kabob experts in Space City (and the Yelpers, the Urbanspooners, and the Chowhounds), The Darband Shishkabob was the place to go, and it fit nicely into the time frame and travel plans. Once you exit 10, Voss Rd. eventually turns into Hillcroft, and after you pass under the Westpark Tollway, and before you cross under the Southwest Freeway (or “The 59”, as west coast hipsters refer to it), you’ll find The Darband in a strip center on the west side of the road, in the same strip center with India Mart, Halal Wok, Babe’s Cabaret (very tempting!), Hot Breads Bakery, and Bismillah. I realize that Bismillah is a very common name, but there used to be a Southwest Asian restaurant in ATX named Bismillah, on Anderson Lane right next to the RR tracks, that had the best Persian food in the city. They closed down and disappeared, and I’ll wonder for a while if this is where they eventually ended up. Perhaps another visit is in order to check out Bismillah, with a cocktail at Babe’s while in the neighborhood.

Anyway, The Darband has gotten great reviews and has amazingly inexpensive prices. For example, the Chenjeh Kabob (#2), which is two skewers of chunks of leg of lamb, served with a rice pilaf, onions, radish salad, and a broiled tomato is $7.45. Most items are $7.45 or $8.45, and the portions are huge. This is Persian food, or if you are a more recent transplant, Iranian food. Politics aside, I have always been a big fan of Persian cuisine, considering that it sits right between all of the Stans and India on the right, Turkey in the middle, and the Middle East on the left. The ancient spice trade routes went through it or just to the north, and the kitchens and cooks managed to adopt what they liked and make it uniquely theirs.

Skewered meats await their fate.....that's the game hen one frame up, on the right hand side

We got there around 1:30 or so and the joint was hoppin’. We were one of two tables of non-natives, out of 24 tables or so. You order at the counter and then they call your number. We had selected our order from a menu on the drive down, so no time was wasted ordering at the counter: the aforementioned Chenjeh Kabob (lamb leg chunks), the Jujeh Kabob ($ 7.45, Cornish game hen, marinated and quartered, skewered, and grilled), and the Darband Special ($8.95, a ground beef chelo kabab paired with a skewer of tender beef chunks). We topped it off with a side of hummus ($1.85, served with a mountain of flatbread). Couple of sodas, a shaker of sumac, some onion wedges, and we were set.

Homeboy hard at it on the grill...our game hen on the far right

Of the three dishes we split, the game hen was drop dead delicious. The bird had been marinated in yogurt and spices, then skewered, char-grilled, and then served with lemon, onions, and flatbread. Smoky and moist, the hen was loaded with layers of complex flavors. I would order this again in a heartbeat. We went with the lamb chunk Chenjeh Kabob over the braised lamb shank ($8.95), and the chunks had great lamb flavor and a nice marinade, but they were a tad overcooked. As usual, every single grain of rice was separate; as it should be (they are absolute fanatics about their rice grains). Good stuff, but I’ll probably try the shank next time; it was looking pretty succulent on a nearby table. I pulled a Homer staring at it.

The game hen......yumm

Chunks o' lamb....

The Darband Special had beef two ways, ground and skewerized, and chunks of steak from another skewer, again with the rice. I’m a real sucker for chelo kabob, made from seasoned and grilled ground beef, and their version is especially good and juicy. The beef cubes were fine, but the chelo was better. The hummus (strange photo, as the camera mysteriously freaked out for that shot), was nice and garlicky, but lacked the richness of tahini to round it out. Still, for the price, a bargain.

The Special (beef-o-rama)

Hummus sitting on a massive flatbread, with weirdosity on the bottom of the photo....

Is The Darband all it’s made up to be? Do the kabob critics in HTX know their stuff? They came damn close. I really liked the meal overall, and we managed to explore a chunk of a rather large menu, while figuring out what to order next time. If I had paid more I might have been a little disappointed, but with these prices, we left full and very satisfied, and wouldn't hesitate to go back.

Mick Vann ©              

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