That's the scenario that unrolled at Noon O Kabab during a recent weekday lunch. It was an ideal Cheap Eats experience.
A small corner storefront on the city's Northwest Side, Noon O Kabab was opened a year ago by Amin Naghavi and his son, Javad. The elder Naghavi is frequently visible in the kitchen and 20-seat dining area; his son is the front man, charming customers with good will and enthusiasm. He's a comedian with a sensitive palate, a rare combination.
The cuisine is Persian, which means the owners are from Iran. Javad says that Tabriz, the family's native town, is home to the country's best cooks and says everyone in his family cooks well.
This may be the secret of Noon O Kabab's culinary success. The food is home cooking at its very best, prepared daily with care from impeccably fresh ingredients. There are no showoff elaborations here. Nothing, including seasonings, is excessive. Portions are generous. So what to order?
Above all, try the rice. The remarkably fluffy yet substantial pure white grains heaped on platters with all entrees is a revelation in both taste and texture. A scattering of saffron-colored rice atop the white grains provides color contrast. (A generous side order of this delightful treat is a mere $1.95.)
Meat-eaters will like the options. Barg, soft as silk, slightly smoky marinated filet slices ($7.95, or $9.95 for a larger portion), is irresistible. Chenjeh (or tickeh kebab, $8.75) is two skewers of marinated rib-eye. The meat is drier and has a firmer texture than the filet, but it is delicious. Even more intriguingly flavored is koubideh ($5.95), a combination of ground beef and ground lamb wrapped around two skewers. Grilling imparts a haunting smoke flavor.
Joujeh kebab ($8.75), squares of marinated chicken breast, come off the grill golden and moist. All these entrees come with charbroiled tomatoes and rice. Various combination plates are available too.
For those who love braises and stews, the lamb shanks ($8.75) are a must-taste item. They are cooked in a tomato and ginger sauce until perfectly tender. Ghormeh sabzi ($7.45) is a tasty beef stew with spinach, herbs and dried lime slices.
Vegetarian offerings include an eggplant plate, a zucchini plate and a "vegetarian mix," each $5.95.
To go back to the beginning, the first item served is a plate containing some feta cheese, bits of onion and tomato and fresh herbs. The appetizers, all fresh and distinctive, include yogurt salad ($1.95) with cucumber and mint; borani ($2.25), yogurt with spinach, onion and garlic; olovieh ($3.45), a tasty chicken and potato salad; and the delightfully smoky, eggplant-based dip, baba ghanouj ($1.45 or $2.95).
Noon, the restaurant's name, means bread, Javad says, and the house bread is a soft and flavorful naan ideal for making your own sandwich with kebab pieces, or for mopping up any juices or bits of food left on the plate.
Desserts include saffron-colored, highly perfumed Persian ice cream ($1.85), dough balls the size of large dates called bamieh (95 cents) and baklava (95 cents). Drink fragrant Persian tea, thick Turkish coffee.
If you are eating there (as opposed to carrying out, which many customers do), you pick up your silverware, plastic cup and paper napkins, cafeteria style.
Small as it is, the place is free of the intrusive scent of cooking oil and very clean. Fresh flowers stand on a shelf. A small caged bird sings along with recorded Middle Eastern music. Though the decor is uninspired and the most that can be said for the furniture is that it serves the purpose for which it is intended, the ambiance created by the host and his interplay with the customers is delightful.