Just don’t ask for lamb. When we inquired about a lamb stew on the menu, our waiter corrected us, saying the lamb had recently been changed to beef. Apparently, the locals hadn’t cottoned to Mary’s tasty little friend. This seemed odd, given how essential lamb is in Middle Eastern cuisine — and how popular it is at other Greek and Middle Eastern places around the city. Who knew that the diners of Fishers had such gentle palates?
Almost as soon as we were seated, a waiter appeared from the kitchen with a plate of complimentary “appetizers.” More like salty little snacks, they were a perfect starter with cold beers served in frosted pilsners. The little array included hunks of feta cheese, chopped walnuts, fat slices of onions and a pile of parsley and cilantro, all served with a very chewy, paper thin pita bread. Then a woman showed up with a little ramekin of what she called Persian nuts. This amounted to a nice assortment of nuts, including pistachios and piquant peanuts in a crunchy coating.
Looking the menu over, we couldn’t find anything that would allow us more of a taste of the kitchen’s talents than the Royal Combo ($38). Intended for two, it promised one of just about everything, including a whopping three kabobs and two types of rice. After our long journey north, we were looking forward to lingering over a multi-course meal the way a sultan might.
Ordering the combo also brought us yet another appetizer, this time a creamy eggplant purée called kashke babemjam. Curiously, this came with more traditional, thicker pita bread. But the yogurt in the slightly chunky spread of roasted eggplant was delicious with a hint of mint and made for a nice alternative to more typical hummus or baba ghanouj. A small salad of tomatoes, cucumber and yet more mint made for another refreshing, if a tad bland, starter.
A long wait for the entrée provided ample time for taking in our surroundings. Opened about five months ago by Amir Rashid, who saw a dearth of Persian cuisine in the Indianapolis area, the place was a bit quiet for a weekend night. But apparently the place fills to capacity on Saturday nights when a belly dancer entertains diners. A small gift counter at the rear of the restaurant offered everything from dried spices to ornate brass hookahs and water pipes to a three-piece cosmetics gift pack inspired by reality TV series sensation American Idol.
Just when it seemed every other table was being served before us, our apologetic waiter ran out with two more beers — compliments of the chef — as reparation for the delay. The staff at Sultani’s would make sure we felt like royalty, and soon enough, we had more food than we could ever contend with.
In the kingdom of kabobs, Sultani’s reigns. A steak kabob offered at least a dozen thick slices of succulent filet mignon, cooked medium with a nice vinegar and garlic bite of the marinade. A chicken skewer was equally delicious with fat chunks of tender meat nicely charred around the edges. A ground beef kabob was perhaps the least interesting, if the most generous, though this too had nice undertones of garlic and spices. A charred roma tomato and lemon wedge provided the garnishes.
Accompanying our meaty feast was a platter mounded with vibrant green and yellow basmati rice — one flavored with dill and lima beans and one gilded with saffron. We pined a bit for the vitamins a green vegetable might have provided, but we certainly did not want for more food.
Alas, desserts are also included with the combo, and we didn’t refuse. The waiter claimed the two pastries he served us were both baklava. While the one was certainly baklava — and a rather moist version of it — the other was more a dense, diminutive doughnut drenched in a sugar syrup. They were a bit cool from the refrigerator, but they made for a sweet ending to our regal evening.
Despite the distance, and the lack of a belly dancer, our meal was worth every minute it took to get there. Rashid also hopes to have the dancer on Friday nights, as well as live Persian music on Thursdays. He even hopes to restore lamb to the menu. One more reason to head back to Fishers to be treated like kings.