Kebab's Big Boy

The stews offer less familiar, more exotic flavors. Ghormeh sabzi pairs beef and veggies in a sharp sauce zipped up with dried lime. Ghemeh combines yellow split peas, beef and potatoes. My favorite is ghemeh bademjan, beef and eggplant touched with saffron in a rich tomato sauce. The stews are served in a bowl, then spooned over a plate of rice.

Occasionally, the kitchen prepares polo, an all-in-one rice dish. If baghali polo is available, grab it. It's lamb shank and lima beans mixed into dill-flecked rice, a terrific combination of flavors.

For me, no Iranian dinner is complete without tah dig. It means "bottom of the pot," and it refers to the oily, crunchy rice scraped off the bottom of the rice pot. It's traditionally topped with one of the stews, and it's absolutely addicting. I put on 25 pounds while I was in Iran, and tah dig was responsible for about 24 of them.

Mast o khiar is a lighter side dish: yogurt mixed with chopped cucumber and mint. Beginners may want to skip the torshi, strong, pungent pickled vegetables.

Wash down your meal with doogh, a salty yogurt drink that Apadana should be making itself, rather than importing in bottles from Los Angeles. Then, finish up with samovar-brewed Iranian tea and genuine Persian ice cream, highlighted with pistachios and a pinch of saffron.

Americans have been at odds with Iran ever since the ayatollahs started setting policy. Fortunately, at Apadana, you'll find Iranian cuisine much easier to swallow.

Sabuddy, 825 West University, Tempe, 894-8387. Hours: Lunch and Dinner, Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.

I asked the affable Israeli proprietor to tell me what "sabuddy" meant. "It's an Asian greeting," he explained. To demonstrate, he clasped his hands in front of him, monklike, bowed slightly and murmured, "Sabuddy."

Although the connection between the restaurant's name and its Middle Eastern fare seems a bit tenuous, there's nothing tenuous about what comes out of this kitchen. Most of the dishes are designed to come the way Tempe's college crowd wants them: cheap and hearty.

There's not much in the way of atmosphere in this freestanding building, which used to house a hot dog/hamburger joint. The radio is tuned to the classical-music station, and the television in the corner blares whatever the customers want to watch. Otherwise, you can stare at University Drive traffic whizzing by, or your fellow diners.

Or you can stare at your food. Most folks probably haven't seen matbuha before, a cold Moroccan tomato salad mixed with green peppers. Unless you're a native Moroccan, don't expect to be dazzled--it's very bland.

The Greek eggplant salad is a more interesting way to glide into dinner. It's pureed eggplant perked up with lemon juice, garlic and olive oil. Two other pre-entree alternatives--tahini, a ground sesame paste, and tabbouleh, a blend of parsley and cracked wheat--are routine.

The soups, however, aren't. Lentil soup, thickened with potatoes, will stick to your ribs. Even better, though, is the white bean and tomato broth, which tastes like someone spent time standing over the pot, getting it just right.

The menu offers only six main-dish options. The best one is the torpedo-shaped kebab. Put together with ground beef and a fistful of Middle Eastern seasonings, it's skewered and grilled, and arrives plump and amazingly juicy. It's particularly good slathered with tahini and stuffed into a pita sandwich.

Sabuddy takes liberties with shishlik, which is traditionally lamb. Here, however, the kitchen uses white-meat turkey. Still, I have no complaints with the tasty result. Like the kebab, you can get it as a platter with rice, or fashioned into a sandwich.

I've never heard of "Jerusalem" meatballs before I came here. But if Sabuddy's Jerusalem meatballs are any guide, I'll be on the lookout for them. You get two big ones, each the size of a large tangerine, finely ground and covered with a robust tomato sauce. Served over rice, they make for a tasty, substantial dish.

When you think of Middle Eastern dishes, schnitzel isn't likely to spring to mind. For some reason, though, Sabuddy makes a chicken version. It's a thin piece of breast, lightly breaded and fried, teamed with rice and cabbage. It's tasty enough, but I'm not sure why anyone would come here to order it. I also don't know why the chicken-and-eggplant platter is so dull. Surely the kitchen could find some way to liven it up.

Sabuddy doesn't aspire to fine Middle Eastern dining. On the other hand, sometimes reliable ethnic fare, friendly surroundings and a menu that tops out at $6.95 can be aspiration enough.

Apadana Shish Kabab:
Eggplant delight
$3.50
Ghemeh bademjan
8.99
Persian ice cream
4.00

White bean soup
$3.45
Kebab sandwich
5.45
Jerusalem meatballs
5.95
Schnitzel
6.95

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