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Eclectic Persian Cuisine: Soltan Banoo

Sultan Banoo

Copyright©2005 sandiego.com, Inc.

When describing one of her restaurant’s appetizers, Sanam Goviar quipped, “It’s not Persian, but it’s not ‘not-Persian,’ either.” That’s an apt description of the cuisine at Soltan Banoo, serving “Eclectic Persian Cuisine” at a popular University Heights location for the past two-and-a-half years.

Sambosas, the appetizer in question, feature crusty bread pockets brimming with spinach, potatoes and peas, a common denominator on menus ranging from Indian to Middle-Eastern to African. It’s the touch of cinnamon and cardamom, spices redolent of exotic Persia, that sends the turnovers in a new direction.

Adventuresome traditionalists might want to start with a bowl of Mast o’ Khiar, a soothing dip blended from plain yogurt, cucumbers, raisins and mint, served with baked pita strips. Diners seeking the tried and true, on the other hand, will enjoy the Middle Eastern Platter, piled high with hummus, tabouli, stuffed grape leaves and a feta-studded salad.

Koubideh

Copyright©2005 sandiego.com, Inc.

Appetizer lovers wishing to plunge into the Persian experience, however, must sample a cup or bowl of the tart/sweet, dark green soup called Ash Anar. A Persian mainstay, the dish simmers spinach, herbs, lentils, beans and wheat in a pomegranate juice base; the end result resembles a really well-made Russian borscht. “We used to make borscht,” Sanam said, “but we hardly do anymore. Everybody loves this soup and won’t try any others.”

We could hardly blame the loyalists. Besides, the soup’s base of pomegranate, an anti-oxidant-rich fruit topping the nutritionist’s A-list these days, shows the restaurant’s emphasis on healthy foods. The large number of inventive wraps and salads, almost all available in vegetarian or vegan modes, lends a decidedly health-conscious vibe to the restaurant.

On our next visit, we promised ourselves, we’d try lighter dishes like the Strawberry Tabouli Salad or Mixed Veggie Wrap. This time we headed for entrees with a Persian flare. I was happy to see an old favorite, Zereshk Polo, listed as Wednesday’s special. Long ago, my friend Mehdi’s mom made that for my fiance and me when I took him for a visit. Happily, he was a hit with my friends, and the dish was a hit with us ... then and now.

Zereshk Polo is an unforgettable sight: a mound of glistening Basmati rice tossed with orange peel, almonds, barberries and carrot specks no wider than a toothpick. True to its eclectic creed, Soltan Banoo adds dried cranberries, personalizing the dish with fruity flavor and rich scarlet hues. Besides the traditional chicken or lamb, diners can order it (and all the specials) prepared with tofu or wheat gluten.

Mastokhiar

Copyright©2005 sandiego.com, Inc.

The Koubideh kabob, a dramatic grilled entree, tasted less of cumin than its Mid-Eastern counterparts. Its grilled tomato and tart cucumber, tomato and mint salad served as mouth-watering counterparts to the meat and rice.

Sanam, her sister Roxanne and her mother Mahin entered the restaurant business in a roundabout way. When the Iranian immigrants first landed in San Diego several years ago, Mahin opened a little shop selling gifts and imported teas across the street from their present location. But Mahin decided to throw a bit of home cooking into the mix, and the lines for her wraps and salads grew too long to support their small, 600-square foot space.

When the restaurant’s current location became available, they moved across the street, spending six months to upgrade the kitchen, add Persian furniture, and build an outdoor dining deck, popular during San Diego’s long summers.

The restaurant’s roots still show in its exquisite selection of teas, ranging from black to green to herbal favorites like Rooibos, Yerba Mate and Mint—still a hit with the neighborhood.

Monday through Friday, 11 pm - 3 pm (lunch), 5 - 9 pm (dinner)

Saturday, 11 am – 9 pm

Closed Sundays

To go orders available

www.soltanbanoo.com

Details »
  • City: San Diego
  • Phone: (619) 298-2801
  • Name: Soltan Banoo
  • Address: 4645 Park Blvd.