Persian cuisine has been described as “poetry on a plate” and “a pretext to break into verse.” Persian history is replete with a large repertoire of literary quotes about food and drink. Even when the subject of a poem wasn’t about food, a poet’s appreciation for Persian cuisine often inspired the inclusion of culinary terms. Take for example fifteenth-century Persian poet Bu-Isaq of Shiraz who described his beloved as: “lithe as a fish, eyes like almonds, lips like sugar, a chin like an orange, breasts like pomegranates, a mouth like a pistachio” and so forth.”
“Surely,” I thought, “contemporary poets can also be inspired to put to verse and song their sentiments about the loves of their lives using food in descriptive terms. Diligent searches revealed that the twain apparently doesn’t cross. I did, however, find an inspiring poem by Grammy award-winning hip-hop artist Busta Rhymes who pays tribute to his favorite food (and one of mine): “Mrs. Fried Chicken you was my addiction. Dripping with high cholest- Like Greeks with his falafel, Italian with his to-mato pasta. What roti is to a rasta. Trapping me; You and your friend mac’ and cheese. Candy yams, collard greens but you knocking me to my knees…”
My friend Bruce “Sr. Plata” and I were nearly inspired to break into verse and song ourselves the minute we walked into Chello Grill and espied a shaker of sumac, a rich red colored spice with a bright lemony flavor. We’ve both been known to lament the relative meagerness of sumac on Persian and Middle Eastern foods we enjoy. Even though it’s considered an essential ingredient in cooking throughout the region, all too often it’s used in moderation (at least by our standards). We knew we’d like the Chello Grill the moment we discovered that shaker of sumac. It gave us confidence that other Persian spices we love on Persian cuisine–cardamom, saffron, garlic, turmeric and yes, even cumin–would be used in the preparation of dishes we would soon be enjoying.
There’s much to like about the Chello Grill, the brainchild of the entrepreneurial duo of Hasan Aslami and Behrad Etemadi who are becoming quite the restaurant impresarios in the Duke City and beyond. Several years ago they created Pizza 9, a burgeoning franchise named by Franchise Business Review among its “best of the best,” one of the top 200 franchises in America for 2016. Hoping to duplicate the success they had with Pizza 9, they plan to franchise Chello Grill with the goal of expanding across the Southwest. The Chello Grill is located in the Pavilions at San Mateo shopping center, occupying the storefront which once housed Boston Market.
The Chello Grill operates much like a cafeteria. Instead of taking your seat at a vacant table, you’ll walk up to the counter where you’ll undoubtedly gaze longingly at the skewers and vegetables under glass before deciding whether to have Chello Yek (one kabob and one side), Chello Doh (two kabobs and two sides) or Chello Seh (three kabobs and two sides). Chello, by the way, comes from the Farsi word for rice. Rice is indeed a prominent part of every meal as is naan, a fresh-baked flat bread more closely associated with Indian cuisine. Available kabobs include koobideh, ground meat seasoned with minced onion, salt and pepper; chicken seasoned with turmeric, paprika, sumac, salt, garlic and several other spices; and shish kabob, skewered beef along with mushrooms, onions, tomatoes and peppers.
Both Bruce and I enjoyed the chicken kabob above all else. The characteristic yellowish hue courtesy of turmeric is punctuated by the characteristic char of a grill. The chicken straddles the fine line between being moist and juicy and being on the desiccated side. A little more either way and it wouldn’t be quite as enjoyable. All too often the shish kabob served in Persian and Middle Eastern restaurants tends to be on the dry side, courtesy of too much time spent on a grill that’s too hot. Not so at the Chello Grill where the grilled beef is moist and delicious. So are the grilled vegetables. A large mound of rice, more than one person can eat, completes the plate.
Our sides ranged from very good (the mirza ghasemi, a grilled eggplant and tomato dip with plenty of garlic) to good (mast o khiar, a cucumber and yogurt dip similar to Greek tzadziki) to unremarkable (a rather dry hummus). The freshly baked naan is much larger than its Indian restaurant counterpart and quite a bit crispier. Roughly the size of a medium pizza, it goes well with any of the sides, but is just too crispy to use “sandwich style” with the kabobs.
Service at Chello Grill is exceptional with a friendly and attentive staff at your beck and call. As with Pizza 9, the Chello Grill recognizes the value of customer orientation and good value. Don’t be surprised if this Persian treasure expands similar to its elder sibling and that someday an inspired poem will rhapsodize about that chicken kabob.
5010 Cutler Avenue, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
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LATEST VISIT: 27 June 2017
# OF VISITS: 1
BEST BET: Chicken Kabob, Sheesh Kabob, Mast O Khiar, Naan, Mirza Ghasemi