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Darbar

February 22, 2007

A note on SAVE OUR FAVES 2007: Before launching right in as we usually do, we want to begin by putting this review in context, since it is our contribution to the 2007 “Save Our Faves” meme, which was started by Chubbypanda, an excellent food blogger from Orange County, California; you can read his explanation of the meme here. The gist is that food bloggers write a post to share their favorite mom-and-pop restaurant or grocery store, so that readers can go out to investigate and support said establishment, which does its part to contribute to the individualistic culinary tapestries of our cities, and in turn helps to stop the inexorable March of the Chain Restaurants. If you’re a regular reader, you know we love these comfy mom-and-pop joints, and so Short Exact is honored to have been tagged to participate in this meme by that most passionate of eaters, the witty and charming Passionate Eater (so sue us, we’re not feeling very creative or clever tonight). Darbar is a favorite Pakistani joint of ours, and since we were hoping to review it soon anyway, this is our contribution to the Save our Faves.

Of course, no Save our Faves post is complete without tagging more bloggers to continue the chain. We’d like to tag the following bloggers, who we think would be up for this meme:

  • Kevin, writer of the blog Dive, who unearths treasures found in the grimiest and diviest spots in San Francisco;
  • Sam, writer of Becks & Posh, whose blog posts betray a love of sharing with readers her food experiences in both restaurants and in the kitchen, as well as a deep commitment to helping others through the food blogging community;
  • Sean, writer of Hedonia, whose discerning palate and continual quest for culinary excellence we’re willing to bet has led him to some great hidden spots; and
  • Garrett, writer of the excellent Sacramento-based food blog Vanilla Garlic, who we hope will enjoy Save our Faves as temporary distraction from his nonstop parade of increasingly exotic cupcakes.

These are all bloggers we like to read regularly; so we’re excited to read about the faves that they would like to save, and we hope that they’ll all pass along the meme.

So, without further ado: Darbar.

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Darbar is a restaurant in Polk Gulch, specializing in North Indian/Moghul cuisine, not to be confused with the Polk branch of Shalimar, located directly across the street. Since the owner of Darbar is from Lahore, Pakistan, the menu also contains a number of Pakistani dishes that are less widely found. Standards (such as the frequently demanded chicken tikka masala) are in evidence, but dining at Darbar also provides a great opportunity to try out some less common dishes.

On a recent lunch visit to Darbar, Short Exact and a dining companion ordered two entrees. One was the achar gosht,

tb_darbar_achar_gosht.JPG

which is a curry of goat meat, featuring mango pickle. This was delicious, and if you’re up for eating goat, we would recommend you try this dish. The pickle and the slight gaminess of the goat were both subtly and very well-complemented by the rich, layered curry.

We also ordered the sarson ka saag,

tb_darbar_sarson_ka_saag.JPG

a favorite of ours at Darbar, and a dish that we often cannot resist ordering. Unlike the saag/palak paneer one often encounters in Indian restaurants, this dish does not include cubes of paneer (the cheese). In contrast to many inferior restaurants (which use frozen spinach in their saag dishes), Darbar uses fresh mustard greens, and the use of fresh greens makes all the difference in terms of enlivening the subtle tangy sweetness of this dish. The sarson ka saag also has a great whipped, creamy texture, which we love.

Of course, we have to mention one of our favorite starters at Darbar, the chapli kebab,

tb_darbar_chapli_kebab.JPG

which contain finely minced meat and lentils assembled into delectable patties that are subsequently pan fried. For $3.99, one receives two such patties (with a garnish of fresh herbs, as shown in the image), and they are a treat. The meat itself is lean, and it is backed up by a delicious mixture of spices (including cumin, black pepper, and coriander) that packs a punch. The patties were perfectly cooked: crisp on the outside, with a soft, smooth interior. What’s even better, the kebabs are served with a mint chutney, the smooth coolness of which not only adds an additional layer of texture and flavor, but also provides a great sensation in the mouth when combined with the spice from the patties. The chapli kebab is a favorite Pakistani dish that one does not always find in restaurants, and Darbar’s version is such a treat, that it is often difficult for us to resist ordering these. At just two dollars per patty, these chapli kebab are a steal.

We will say, however, that Darbar’s naan is not our very favorite. Sometimes the restaurant achieves a good balance of softer, more doughy texture with crispy blistered sections, but other times, the balance tilts too much in favor of the doughy texture. The naan is definitely not bad, but it isn’t exceptional either.

All in all, we’ve very much enjoyed our meals at Darbar, and each good experience encourages repeated visits. The prices are extremely reasonable (no dish on the menu is more expensive than $9.99), especially when one considers the quality, which is often noticeably better than what one finds at similarly priced restaurants. Also, the service here is downright kind and caring, and it is immediately apparent that the owner not only loves to oversee his restaurant, but also very much appreciates each and every customer that walks through the door. Many people never make it past the rather dense cluster of Indian/Pakistani joints in the “Tandoorloin”, and it really is a shame, because Darbar is only about a half dozen blocks away from the Tandorlooin, and it offers fare of superior quality at the same very reasonable price point. Although the restaurant is not large, it never has quite the hustle and bustle that it deserves — and that is exactly why we wanted to mention Darbar in connection with Save our Faves 2007. We would love to do our part to help keep this gem of a restaurant alive and thriving, so for those of you reading this who are in the Bay Area, we definitely recommend you check out Darbar.

RATING:

COST:

1412 Polk Street (between California St. and Pine St.)
San Francisco, CA 94109
Phone: 415.359.1236
Hours: Daily, 11:00 am – 10:00 pm.

Cuisine: Indian/Pakistani
Neighborhood: Polk Gulch/Van Ness

How to get there: Darbar is located right on Muni line 19 and is less than a block south of the California Street cable car line. Within about four blocks are lines 1, 2, 3, 4, 12, 27, 38, 47, 49, and 76.

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12 comments

  1. Hey thanks for tagging me – I did a review of Darbar in April 05 – I just went back and reread it, and amused myself over the changes in my blog and writing style in the last two years.

    Of course – I would hate it if Darbar closed down, but I don’t think it is in any danger because it is so well loved. It never hurts to remind an audience though.

    I guess that is what confuses me about this meme – do we have to find somewhere that really needs saving – I mean how would we know since its not something restaurateurs would necessarily publicize?

    Otherwise a lot of the little places around town do very well, and despite being small and cheap are in no need of being saved as far as I can tell, whereas it might be a bigger restaurant that needs a helping hand but we just don’t know?


  2. Hi Sam,

    I don’t know how seriously to take the point about “saving” a restaurant. It doesn’t seem to me either that Darbar is in danger of closing down — having said that, though, I’m always surprised at how I’ve never had to wait for a table there. I mostly thought it was a good idea for this meme just because it is a great place, but I’m always surprised how many people don’t know about it, because it gets overlooked in the shuffle of Naan ‘n Curry, Shalimar, etc.

    I would probably just think of it as a way to talk about a cool hidden spot you’ve found that may not obviously show up on people’s radar’s screens — whether or not you actually think it’s in “danger” of closing.

    Cheers,
    Eric


  3. *Blush!* Thank you! You called me “witty and charming!” And I loved the post! You did the meme so much more justice than my feeble attempt. I’ve never tried Darbar before, but I’d have to say that my favorite Indian place in the city is Chutney, which is on Jones and O’Farrell. But with mango pickles and goat curry, it appears that the authenticity and selection of Darbar is unrivaled.

    Also, have you ever tried Indian Oven? I’d say that place has the best plain naan I’ve had in the City.


  4. Hey PE,

    Well, your posts are witty and charming, so although I haven’t actually met you, I assume that the same would be true of you as well 😀

    Chutney is tasty too! Though unfortunately I haven’t been in awhile. I hear about Indian Oven a lot, so it’s somewhere on the list but I still haven’t made it yet. Perhaps I should bump it up?


  5. If we are talking about the quality of posts, I think you take the “Hans Solo” title of being witty and charming! But I am going to add “thoughtful and very well-mannered like Yoda,” because after reading how you provide directions via the MUNI lines, I can totally imagine you being someone who opens doors for ladies and who puts his coat over puddles for grandmothers!

    Also, in response to your question: Why yes, I am lactose intolerant! Unfortunately, I became lactose intolerant in high school and it has plagued me and my companions ever since. …But, I am sure that is a lot more than you wanted to know!


  6. Haha PE, I feel for you. I’ve been lactose intolerant ever since junior high. It definitely is no fun. Thanks for the Yoda comment, though. Appreciates it, Yoda does. 🙂


  7. Eric,

    Your take on my Save Our Faves 2007 meme hit the nail square on the head. Thanks for participating!

    – Chubbypanda


  8. Thanks again for the tag, Eric.

    I chose Clown Alley!

    http://divefood.blogspot.com/2007/02/save-our-faves-2007-clown-alley.html

    Take care,

    Kevin


  9. Just thought I’d say that Chapli Kabob is actually an Afghan dish. There is a minority population of Pashtuns(one of Afghanistan’s major ethnic tribes) in Northern Pakistan, but it is definitely Afghan food.


  10. Hi Aimal. I was aware that this is originally an Afghan dish, but I was also under the impression it was quite popular in Pakistan as well, hence the Pakistani favorite bit. I didn’t know it was only a minority there that regularly eats this dish, so thanks for writing in!


  11. I love this little restaurant. The balance of the spices is subtle and just perfect. Even their lunch buffet is way above any other such bufets I ever ate in the city. And I have to seriously stop my self from polishing off the large bowl of self-serve rice pudding.


  12. Funny you mention that, Daniel, as I just tried their lunch buffet recently, maybe a few weeks ago. I agree, it was a much nicer showing than most lunch buffets I’ve been to in the past. You’re spot on about the rice pudding… once you start, it’s so tempting to continue. 🙂



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