Moby Dick, House of Kabob
1300 Connecticut Ave. N.W.
Washington, DC 20036
Tel: (202) 833-9788
Say "Moby Dick" to your average Anglophone, and she will think of a whale. The same words spoken to your average Iranian evoke memories of kabob houses. The original "Moby Dick" was in Tehran near the former American Embassy. Search for "Moby Dick" and kabob on Google and you will get about 12,600 results, including Iranian restaurants in Boston, San Diego, and Los Angeles. Moby Dick has become a common name for Iranian kabob houses, and most of these establishments are not related. But the most renowned of the Moby Dicks is the small chain of nine restaurants in the Washington area. Today I had lunch at their restaurant on Connecticut Avenue in the Dupont Circle area of Washington, DC.
The menu includes Persian kabobs, including Kabob-E Kubideh ($6.09 with bread; $7.59 with rice), Kabob-E Chenjeh, Kabob-E Barreh, Kabob-E Joojeh. These are ground beef, beef tenderloin, lamb, and chicken respectively. The kubideh meat is mixed with grated onion before being put a flat skewer and cooked on an open grill. I like the Chenjeh and the Joojeh the best, and the server pointed out that I did not have to make the difficult choice between the two because I could get a "super combo" ($13.39 with rice, $11.79 with bread). You can also get a fish kabob, which uses swordfish meat ($9.16 with bread, $11.19 with rice), but I have never tried it.
The bread is the traditional flat Persian bread cooked on the wall of a tanoor, the traditional Persian oven. Delicious (only) when fresh and hot, a basket of this bread arrives at your table even if you order the kabob with rice rather than bread.The Kabob-E Joojeh ($6.49 with bread, $7.99 with rice) consists of chunks of tender white chicken meat marinated in a mixture of lemon juice and saffron, which gives it a bright yellow color. It was delicious -- tasty and moist throughout. The Chenjeh ($7.89 with bread, $9.49 with rice) was excellent too. Evidently, they use very good meat. The rice is highly fragrant basmati rice with a yellow bit on top, where saffron has been applied. A knob of butter gives it some lubrication and and adds flavor.
We also had a rather insipid hummus to start with, and I wished later that I had chosen the Kashk-o-Bademjan, an appetizer that consists of sautéed eggplant (aubergine), grilled onion, garlic and boiled yogurt. I think that the principle is that they probably do Persian dishes well, but their customers expect them to do other Middle Eastern dishes as well. For example they offer falafel, which I have not tried. But why go to a Persian restaraunt to eat Lebanese food?
This was a very good lunch at a reasonable price in the middle of Washington's busy Dupont Circle area. I wish they would not use disposable plates and plastic utensils. And a license to sell wine would elevate this place from "Very Good" to "Outstanding."
Moby Dick now has eight other branches in the Washington area, including Georgetown, Bethesda, Gaithersburg, Mc Lean, Fairfax, Arlington, Ashburn, and Germantown. I have eaten at the Georgetown and Bethesda Moby Dicks, and the standard seems consistent. I have also been at parties, where they have done the catering (excellently). (The Georgetown branch is extremely small, and it is sometimes difficult to eat there comfortably.)
For readers outside the Washington area, there is a website, FarsiEats, that provides information about where you can get Iranian (Persian) food. It lists restaurants all over the world, including my favorite, Reza's, in Chicago, but not Moby Dick. The site also has recipes for people who want to cook Persian food themselves. No other cuisine in the world can make basmati rice "sing" in the way Iranians can!