The Sultan's deli: Zandi's Lebanese-style dinners

As Dish recently reported, Zandi's Subs & Deli on 29 North is now open for dinner, serving traditional Lebanese and Persian food.

After 25 years as a lunch spot, son Reza Zandi and his Lebanese friend, chef Salaam Talah, admit it's not easy getting people to think of Zandi's as a dinner destination. Still, Zandi– who, with a degree in food and beverage management from Johnson & Wales, ran a local catering business for a while– hopes Salaam's tasty Persian kabobs will be enough to change some perceptions.

Despite the brightly lit and informal atmosphere of Zandi's at night, the place has an ethnic authenticity that's rare for Charlottesville.

For instance, almost no one around Dish is speaking English, and Zandi says it's the only place in town serving Halal meat, a Muslim version of Kosher (with a little organic farming thrown in), which requires animals to be treated and slaughtered in specific ways.

Zandi's may not be the most atmospherically nuanced dinner spot in town (Zandi says he wants to dim the lights, change the d├ęcor, and start playing Arabian music), but people looking for authentic baba ghanoush, hummus, kabobs, and Lebanese-style rice (very light and fluffy), would do well to check it out.

And don't forget to clean your plate. As Zandi reminded Dish, "You can't be a sultan if you don't eat your Soltan Kabob."


Kyoto agreement

 In early November the Japanese restaurant Kyoto opened in the Rio Hill Shopping Center, right next to TJMax, without much fanfare. According to owner Alice Hwang, that was no accident.

"We did not advertise," she told Dish, smiling and putting her fingers to her lips. "By mouth is the best way to advertise." Hwang ought to know. She and her family opened the Szechuan Restaurant on Holiday Drive 20 years ago.

Six years ago, they sold the restaurant to their chef and moved to Charlotte, North Carolina. "But Charlotte was too big, and we missed everyone here," she says. "Everyone is so close here, like a family. So we decided to move back."

Kyoto joins the growing number Japanese restaurants in town, including Diahachi in Albemarle Square Shopping Center, Miyako on the Downtown Mall, and Sakura and First Wok near the Corner. And now Tokyo Rose, finally!

One unique thing about Kyoto is that the entire kitchen is visible behind a glass wall at the back of the restaurant. Hwang, who exudes that combination of alertness and calm that restaurant biz vets seem to have, points out something that all the rookies out there might want to consider.

"When people see a chef cooking, " she says, "people feel comfortable." Indeed, Dish felt right at home at Kyoto.


Happy Birthday, Mas!

 It's hard to believe that Mas has been open for only three years. Already the Belmont addition to Coran Capshaw's restaurant collection has become a neighborhood landmark on par with Spudnuts.

"Mas kinda represents the new Belmont," says chef Tomas Rahal. "We're trying to bring new life to that part of town without ruining the special quality of the neighborhood."

In many ways, Mas has been a community revitalization project. It single-handedly extended Charlottesville's downtown restaurant/bar scene over the tracks to Belmont, luring people whose preconceptions about the neighborhood might otherwise have prevented them from visiting, all without triggering a gold rush.

Ingredients, of course, are key to any restaurant's success. But the most important ingredient can't be bought or finessed. It's that elusive "something" about a place that makes just being there enough.

On that note, Dish suggests you be there for Mas' annual birthday party this Saturday, January 21. In addition to great tapas, door prizes, special gifts and general mayhem (If you were there last year, you know what we're talking about), it'll be DJ Quarter Roy's (aka Patrick Jordan) final gig before he heads off to the Big Apple.

Salaam Talah and Reza Zandi are now serving dinner at Zandi's Deli on 29 North.