Eggplant Three Ways at Noon-O-Kabab
I know how popular Noon-O-Kabab's takeout is, but I'll always, always dine in. The service is excellent, the interior bright, and you are given—gratis—warm pita and a dish of fresh radishes, sliced onions, and fresh, creamy feta to snack on before your meal. I'll take that, as far as free starters go, over chips and salsa or baguette and olive oil any day.
The Persian restaurant offers three eggplant appetizers, only one of which I'd ever tried anywhere, the ubiquitous baba ghannouj. There are dishes that you try and think, "Oh yeah, I could have done that at home," and then there are dishes that make you exclaim, "How did they do that?" Each of these dwells in the latter category for me. I literally dug in with a spoon when the pita was gone; despite the server's offer to bring more bread, I didn't need it. Each eggplant dish, which was surprisingly distinct in flavor and color from the others, was heavenly.
The Caspian Eggplant ($7.95) is a brightly colored blend of sweet roasted skin-on tomatoes, eggplant, onions, and garlic, topped with a dollop of plain, tart yogurt to swirl in. It's a deceptively simple preparation, with a chunky texture and no need for additional salt or spices; that roasted flavor carries the dish.
Noon-O-Kabab's Baba Ghannouj ($4.95 for small portion, pictured) is quite possibly the smokiest I've ever had. That amazing fire-charred flavor was complemented by a perfectly smooth texture, without a stray soggy bit of eggplant in sight (nor too much tahini—those are my two most common complaints about lesser baba ghannouj). A few shakes of sumac, the tart, ruby-colored spice in Parmesan cheese jars on every table, added a bright touch to the olive oil-laden spread.
Kash-Ke-Bademjan is a stand-by Persian dish of eggplant, mint, onions, garlic, and kashk. The highlight here was the beautiful golden color from the turmeric and the final drizzle of kashk, which is an essential component of the puree. It's fermented whey, but tastes not at all like yogurt or sour cream, and more like a liquefied salty feta. I loved the chewy texture of the eggplant bits I found (again, with none of the sogginess that vegetable can be prone to when cooked) and the tangle of sweet caramelized onions heaped on top.