Restaurant: Bandar, San Diego, California
It’s not every day that I get to travel somewhere new and exciting. But this current week, I’m off on an adventure. Albeit (see an upcoming post), not the adventure that I was expecting, but you make the most of the cards that are dealt to you. You can’t change the circumstances, but you can change the attitude, right?
So, for one day only, I was knee-deep in the surroundings, hills, and the beautiful bay of San Diego. While my traveling buddies (Cathy (aka: the roomie) and Jenn) went to a local taco stand for lunch, I made my lunch out of a protein bar that I brought with me. I hadn’t planned on lunch, and when I can’t check out places online, I get a bit cautious. I like to read reviews and look at menus and be confident in my choice to eat somewhere. When you have food allergies, you just learn not to take risks. It was all good. My bar was filling and got me through to dinner time. Because Cathy had made reservations at a place called Bandar in the Gaslamp Quarter of San Diego.
Bandar is a Persian restaurant of all things. Now, I’ve had a lot of different cuisines in my life, but my taste buds had never had a go at Persian cuisine. Bandar’s owner, Behrooz Farahani, graduated with a degree in architecture and originally owned his own architectural firm. When he visited San Diego in 1986, he decided to move his family (a wife and twin daughters) there to provide them with a better life. Behrooz and his wife, Shokooh, purchased the historical buidling in the Gaslamp Quarter…and soon Bandar emerged, becoming an overnight phenomenon. This husband and wife team raised Persian dining to new heights, using authentic marinades for signature dishes involving beef, lamp, chicken, and fish. Using only the finest ingredients, Farahani insists on personally choosing each cut of meat that is served in his restaurants.
The restaurant, Bandar, is best known for its use of healthy ingredients and bold, complex flavors, bringing the flavors of saffron, limes, and other Persian spices to the forefront of each dish, highlighting the amazing flavor that comes in such a healthy and exotic cuisine.
It had been a long, long day. I was sore from making the hikes through airports to get to my flights. And then hauling around San Diego. But, it was all culminating with the final outing of the evening…dinner. And Cathy chose Bandar as our place to eat as it had great reviews on Find Me Gluten Free…and mostly everything (save the bread) is gluten-free in the restaurant (although I think the desserts are also an exception, but we were too full to even consider dessert). Therefore, this made it a great place to check out.
We were there a little earlier than the reservation and for most of the meal, we were the only ones in there. Considering it was prime dinner time, I was a bit surprised by this. But, what do you do? You get seated early (we all decided we could eat…although I’ve realized that traveling still does a number on my appetite and most times I’m not exactly hungry, but I know I need to eat something. The hostess seated us near the back at a gorgeous table and left us with menus. Water was poured and we settled in for a moment. Flat bread and butter were brought out…and to be sure we asked (because the menu misleadingly says that all food there is gluten-free) about what I could have…and the bread was a no-go. From what I was told…it was good.
The first thing we noticed was the price of the food. Holy hummus, foodies…it was pricey. And with Hawaii on the horizon, we weren’t looking for an expensive meal, for sure. I mean, the cheapest (and pretty much only) vegetarian entree on there (Eggplant Stew) was around $26. I wasn’t sure how big the entree portions were either, and, as I said, I wasn’t all that hungry to begin with. A combination of fatigue and the heat, I believe, are to blame for that. My internal clock was three hours ahead, so in my mind, it was bedtime, not dinner time.
While we decided on what to do for dinner, Cathy placed an order for the Hummus Classic ($10.00) that we could split. With that order in, we continued discussing whether or not to split some appetizers or just let me get an appetizer size plate and Cathy and Jenn split an entree. This actually went on for longer than it should have, but mostly because we were all just tired, and probably hungrier than we realized. BUT…with that being said…our Hummus Classic arrived, without anything to dip in it, so I guess that was meant for that flat bread. Cathy asked our waitress if we could have some tomatoes or something so that I could have some too…and she very quickly said she would bring out some cucumbers for me. YAY! Cathy and Jenn each scooped up a little. This was actually Jenn’s first time (she is a bean-hater, BTW) trying hummus and she did not like it at all. To dry and beany she said. Cathy, however, did like it, and when I got my cucumbers and was able to try it…it was actually really good. Smooth, seasoned with paprika and just…yummy. It had that bit of olive oil to finish and it made for a flavorful touch. It was a nice little appetizer to help get us more focused. And while we enjoyed the hummus and Jenn enjoyed some flat bread, we finally decided on dinner. YAY!
Jenn and Cathy, in the end, decided to split the Albalu Polo (Black Cherry Rice with Chicken Kebab) entree ($26.00). This is exactly what the dish sounds like…chunks of grilled chicken tenderloin served up with rice and black cherries. The waitress asked if they liked sweet things because it was a sweet dish. The two poultry-loving sweet-toothers were okay with that.
As for me, I went with the Dolmeh (Stuffed Grape Leaves) starter ($12.00). I have had horrible grape leaves at a local place in Louisville, Kentucky (oddly enough called The Grape Leaf) and then had some fantastic ones at a Mediterranean chain called Taziki’s. So, this is like my go-to food. This version of Dolmehs were large grape leaves stuffed with split peas, tarragon, basil, parsley, cilantro, chives, rosemary and basmati rice. When I ordered it, she said it was like a meal…so that was a good sign.
The food actually took a little bit of time to get to us. That was fine, because everything at Bandar is cooked to order. Although, it did get to the point that Jenn and I were joking about having to go find a chicken, kill it, pluck it, debone it, etc. But, lo and behold…as a few more people were coming in, our food arrived. I am very glad that Cathy and Jenn opted to split the entree they got because that platter was HUGE. It easily could have fed 3-4 people. Honestly. And the waitress said that she has seen diners finish it on their own. How that is even possible, I’ll never know. They let me try the black cherry rice, and it was really tasty. But I had my own food to dive into, so I left them to their chicken platter of DOOOOOM, while I settled in to feast on my own meal.
The starter size Dolmehs at Bandar come with four (4) very stuffed grape leaves, each one resting on a fresh slice of tomato. That was a nice touch. After photos for the blog, I carried over the first Dolmeh to my plate and settled in with fork and knife to give it a taste. I sliced through the cooked grape leaf, seeing the seasoned basmati rice, split peas, and herbs poke out and fall onto my plate and the tomato. The rice was perfectly cooked and seasoned. The flavors were awesome. My first bite and I got the fresh herbs immediately in the rice, the spices, and even the peas. It was a great texture, the rice soft, but not mushy, the peas the same…and that grape leaf…it was cooked to perfection. Pairing it with a slice of tomato brought a nice added touch and I ate it, whether it was a garnish or not. I love tomatoes…I could eat a full one as a snack. Needless to say…it was worth the wait…and the indecision…and the price.
And, in case you were wondering, Cathy and Jenn loved their Albalu Polo dish too. Not only was the rice cooked to perfection and paired beautifully with sweet black cherries (I never would have imagined that combination to work), they said the chicken was moist, tender, and tasty. But they hardly made a dent in the actual entree dish itself. But, they did what they could. In the end, Cathy said she could always eat the leftovers for breakfast (which I didn’t believe for a moment, and lo and behold, I was right), so they boxed it up and we left with full and happy tummies.
So, in the end, expensive, but damn, you really do get what you pay for. Honestly, I was not expecting that much food. So, honestly, when you look at it in perspective, Bandar is giving you your money’s worth on their expensive entrees. I was relieved I didn’t attempt the Eggplant Stew on my own after seeing the Thanksgiving Day platter of food that Jenn and Cathy attempted (and failed) to make a dent in.
Bandar was an interesting experience and got Jenn to at least try something new. I’m still working on getting her to try avocado. She says it scares her…but I’ll work on it. That being said, Persian food is very interesting, delightful, and delicious. And I was beyond happy with the food I was able to eat at Bandar. They brought out a tray of cakes to offer us dessert, but we were done and ready to head back to the hotel, cycle through the shower, and get ready for a 3 am wakeup call to get to the airport and continue on our way to Hawaii the next day.
And by the time we were leaving, there were a few more people inside eating. I guess the Gaslamp Quarter (home of SO MANY restaurants) isn’t quite as busy on a Thursday night. But that worked in our favor, as we never felt rushed, and our food was given extreme focus and care. It showed. It was everything I hoped for…and a little more. I’d be more than tempted to go back should I ever find myself back in San Diego.