Kei Kabob, across from The Wellmont Theatre, in Montclair, is the most recent addition to the growing number of kebab houses in Montclair. The “Kei,” which means “king” reflects the pride and passion that owner and chef Askan Khalaj has in his traditional Persian dishes served at his new restaurant.
Khalaj graciously invited some of the Baristanet family to dinner last week, and the thought of grilled kebabs, a group favorite, was not a hard sell for the young’uns. Like many chefs, Khalaj was inspired at an early age by his grandmother, “an exquisite cook who often prepared feasts for the whole village of Karaj,” he says. “I was one of 32 grandsons who was called to help—watching the wood-fired stoves and copper cauldrons. There I learned her recipes and developed my specialty of all kinds of kebabs.”
We started our meal with an order of Baalbak Hummus ($6), and a delicious eggplant appetizer, Kask-e-Bademjan ($7) redolent of garlic, mint, and caramelized onions. We were all lapping it up by the spoonful. Even my eggplant-averse husband loved this dish, be sure and give it a try!
The hummus was what you’d expect, but lighter in texture with more chickpea flavor than tahini. Those dishes came with hot grilled flat bread bread, of course. The portions are very generous, and we over-indulged.
The dinner menu offers stews of beef, lamb, chicken and duck, salads of chopped vegetables, yogurt, and mint, sauces and soups, but the four of us went kabob-crazy. The house special, Barg Kaob ($17), is a beef sirloin kabob marinated in a pomegranate-walnut glaze that was too tempting to resist. A grilled lamb kabob ($16) and a combo, Soltani Kabob ($17) with a skewer of Kubideh (ground beef) and tender filet mignon each came on a large oval platter with two charcoal charred tomatoes and a huge mound of perfectly cooked fragrant basmati rice. (Someone please tell me how to cook this so not one grain sticks to another.) A traditional chicken shish kabob ($14) was lovely and lemony and moist served over the delicious rice with grilled veggies.
Pomegranate may just be the new balsamic, and at Kei Kabob, you’ll find traces of this acidic, aromatic fruit on many of the dishes. Traditional Persian food, full of flavor—not heat, is seasoned with saffron, sumac, walnuts, barberries, and fresh herbs.
Our very satisfying meal left no room for dessert, even though the neighboring diners raved about pistachio ice cream. We enjoyed a wonderful tea spiced with cardamom to end our meal.
The menu at Kei Kabob is still in its formative stage, expect to see seafood dishes, chef Khalaj’s twist on traditional Persian duck, and of course—more kabobs. All he wishes is to share the wonderful flavors of his Persian heritage and put a smile on your face.
His secret ingredient? “I put happiness in my food!”
401 Bloomfield Avenue, Montclair, NJ, 07042
Montclair, NJ 07042
Lunch, Dinner, Catering, Delivery—Closed Monday.