Read most any review of an Indian, Middle Eastern or Persian restaurant, and you will surely find a passage where the reviewer heaves up from his seat to consider the buffet. Nose in the air and plate in hand, he’ll walk past the chafing dishes, calling this “tired” and that “sad.” “Bedraggled” if he’s nasty.
“Take my advice,” this critic will write. “Skip the buffet and order off the menu.”
Let me break with tradition. If you go to Sinbad’s Feast, enjoy the buffet and skip the menu. The “feast” you should be most interested in at this new Johns Creek Persian restaurant is the one that stretches across the back of the room. The food is fresh, oft replenished and feeds you well for a modest price.
Owner P.J. Vafadari opened Sinbad’s Feast four months ago in the space that was once Sia’s, a swank fine-dining destination. Vafadari stripped down the dining room, replacing the twinkly trappings of yore with loud tile, bright lights and an open floor plan that allows the weekend belly dancer to make the rounds with ease. He covered the side patio and turned it into a hookah lounge and event space.
He needs that event space (as well as the second one in what used to be a side dining room) because on any given night huge parties of 20 people or more stream in. Muslims from Iraq, Pakistan, Bosnia, Somalia and everywhere in between have discovered Sinbad’s Feast. The draw? Vafadari only uses halal meat, butchered according to Islamic dietary laws.
Vafadari himself is not Muslim but rather Baha’i — a faith that combines the best precepts from many other monotheist religions and stresses the commonality of all humankind. Needless to say, he is thrilled with the polyglot clientele that has welcomed his restaurant. Because of his faith, Vafadari doesn’t serve any alcohol but has no problem if you bring your own. The servers — who are, to the one, the nicest and most welcoming souls you will ever meet — will be happy to open and serve your wine.
Otherwise, I’d recommend starting with a cup of the wonderfully full bodied black tea ($1.99) brewed in an elaborate samovar by the entrance. Then, after 30 seconds or so of small talk with your assembled party, attack the buffet ($8.99 at lunch, $12.99 on weeknights and all day Sunday, $14.99 on Friday and Saturday nights).
Expect a dozen or so salads and cold dishes and an equal number of hot dishes. Remember, there’s no shame in repeat visits. The tastes and textures of the cold items combine in a particularly appealing way when allowed to take over a full-sized dinner plate. The house “Caesar” salad prepared with feta cheese is all creamy tang against the musky flavor of chickpeas with red pepper and cumin and the gloopy, mellow vibe of spinach yogurt (most-o esfenaj). Now throw in the bright dice of cucumbers, onions and tomatoes (Shirazi salad), some diced beets and a dollop of hummus. Are you done? Not until you try the oloveyea — a fantastic chicken salad with potatoes, hard-boiled egg and Persian pickles. I wanted to take a tub of it home with me. Seriously: The Publix deli bigwigs should come here to study this salad.
Now you can turn your attention to the hot items — a typical Persian lineup of rice, stews and kebabs. Don’t look for that soul-satisfying finesse you might know from other Persian restaurants, where each chunk of meat seems like a jewel. Do look for a reasonably tasty plateful at a decent price.
There will be fluffy basmati rice and another Persian rice dish, such as the seasoned blend of rice and lentils called adas polo. There will likely be quormeh sabzi, a piquant stew of herbs, beef and kidney beans. The unique sourness in it comes from dried lime. You may also find karaff, a mild combination of beef and well-cooked celery. And, of course, bread. Piles and piles of the warm flatbread called taftoon.
Keep piling: You’ve got some nicely marinated zucchini rounds and onion quarters from a vegetable kebab, chunks of flame-burnished chicken, and koubideh — the seasoned ground beef kebab that can be one of the glories of the Persian kitchen. The version I try is good, if lacking that burst of oniony juices I love in great, hot-off-the-grill koubideh. Maybe it spent that minute too long in its warming tray.
In deference to the many Indian customers, Vafadari has developed a recipe for chicken koubideh that reminds me a bit of some sad turkey burgers I’ve eaten.
In the evening, servers will bring portions of chengeh, or beef tips kebab, to each table.
One night we try to order a few items off the menu, but none really thrill us. Kashke badamjoon ($5.99) — a roasted eggplant dip with mint and creamy whey sauce — seems too dense and sticky compared to other versions around town. Fesenjoon ($9.99) combines a walnut-pomegranate sauce with dull, springy chunks of white meat chicken. Again, I’ve had versions that seem more vibrant.
That said, if any kebab catches your eye, you can order it and have free run of the buffet for a $5 supplement. Most kebab plates cost in the mid-teens to low twenties.
But, you know what? You might, like us, want to skip the a la carte kebabs and go right to Sinbad’s Feast. It’s a lot of food, it’s tasty, it comes with great service, and you’ll be very pleased by how inexpensive your meal was.SINBAD’S FEAST 10305 Medlock Bridge Road, Johns Creek, 770-622-6409 Food: Persian buffet and menu that uses halal meat Service: Exceptionally warm, welcoming and friendly Best dishes: Quormeh sabzi — beef stew with herbs and kidney beans — is the star of the buffet line Vegetarian selections: You can make a meal of the dips, salads and appetizers Credit cards: Visa, MasterCard, American Express, Discover Hours: Lunch 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday; Dinner 5-9 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday and Sunday, 5-10 p.m. Friday-Saturday; closed Monday Children: Perfect for kids — particularly those who like to try new foods Parking: In attached lot Reservations: Yes Wheelchair access: Yes Smoking: Only hookahs in the detached hookah lounge Noise level: High, but you can eat in the hookah lounge where it’s much quieter Patio: No Takeout: Yes