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    Although we tend to think of "Indian" as one cuisine, there are many cultures within that country, and diets differ dramatically. In general, the food of Southern India is fragrant with curry leaves, coconuts and tamarind. In the North, cream and yogurt are common ingredients and the predominant spice is garam masala, a mixture based on cardamom, clove, black pepper and cumin.

    Serving Northern-style cuisine is just what Amit Kumar and partner Joy Kakkanad were after when they opened Aashirwad (meaning "blessing") last November on the south side of Orlando. And although that is not a part of town hungering for an Indian restaurant, the owners wanted to set themselves apart by keeping the cost affordable.

    This is certainly the case at lunch, when Aashirwad serves a tasty, if depleted at times, buffet for only $6.95. Every day, the buffet is stocked with favorites such as chicken tikka masala, tandoori chicken, curry and rice. They also have salad and a rotating array of vegetarian items that make this buffet well worth the price of admission. But it's necessary to exercise patience when eating here – service is slow, and they don't always keep the buffet completely stocked. My second trip to the mother lode was fraught with empty chafing dishes (in one there were three florets of cauliflower) and puddles of spilled curry sauce. Eventually we were waited on, and eventually the buffet was restocked. Even though this wasn't a fast lunch, I would happily recommend it for the frugal and hungry.

    The dinner experience at Aashirwad is more suggestive of the basic hospitality background studied by Kumar and Kakkanad in hotel/restaurant management school in India: They keep the lights low, the music medium and the service high. Still, the restaurant is in a strip mall on the corner of International Drive and Kirkman Road, and the dining room itself is nothing special, just a collection of booths and tables and Indian-inspired wall hangings.

    We started our meal with aromatic vegetable samosas ($3.50), delicate and flaky pastry snugly enfolding a mixture of potatoes and peas. Most of the vegetables at Aashirwad seemed slightly abused, as if they were overcooked or kept around too long, and the starchy-tasting veggies in the samosas were no exception.

    Both the tandoori chicken ($11.95) and the tandoori mixed grill ($15.95) were fabulously flavorful and rich with the characteristic charred smokiness of the signature clay oven. The lamb that comes as part of the mix was succulent and moist, but the morsels of chicken were on the dry side. A nice element of surprise was the addition of grilled paneer (Indian-style cottage cheese); the smooth creaminess of the cheese and the spiciness of the seasonings blended quite beautifully.

    I was disappointed with Aashirwad's version of palak paneer ($9.45), creamy spinach with cubes of Indian cheese. The spinach lacked the usual creaminess and tasted flat; the cheese – though very tasty itself – kind of hung in suspension and seemed out of place.

    Many things we tasted were good but were shy of being great. The cucumber and yogurt condiment, raita ($1.95), didn't burst with flavor; the chickpea crackers with cumin seeds, pappadam (complimentary), were slightly greasy; the lentils with tomatoes and onions, tadka dal ($8.95), had a watery quality. But the tandoor-baked bread, naan ($1.50) was spectacular: springy and soft in the center, yet crisp and smoky on the outside where it melded with the heat of the clay oven.

    I have a feeling this restaurant hasn't quite hit its stride yet. Until then, I'll go back just for the naan.

    Orlando’s newest International Drive retail attraction offering an eclectic shopping adventure is distinguished by its indoor marketplace (The Village) housing 165 local artisans and craftspeople selling and demonstrating their products and services. Artegon Marketplace is also home to the area’s only Bass Pro Shops plus Ron Jon Surf Shop, Sheplers Western Wear and Gods & Monsters high-end comics and collectibles store. Fuddruckers, fast-casual restaurants, food kiosks, a ropes course, glow-in-the-dark mini golf, movie theatre and live performers every weekend provide plenty of food and entertainment options.
    In the midst of celebrity-branded restaurants and kiosks slinging theme-park kitsch, the Cowfish at Universal CityWalk, occupying a sprawling three-story space with more than 500 seats, fills the need for a kind of inventive, delightfully weird cuisine. There’s a menu section for burgers, one for sushi, and a selection of bizarre combinations requiring a suspension of disbelief, like the Buffaloooo-shi burgushi roll: chipotle bison, fried green tomato and feta rolled in crispy tempura flakes. It works.

    When the pair of cordial thick-necked bruisers requested I remove my hat before entering this brassy two-story behemoth of a restaurant, I'll admit I was a little nonplussed. Would they rather I dine in their establishment with a severe case of hat-head? I mean, this is Pointe Orlando, not Park Avenue, and the restaurant, with all its kitschy details, seems like it could've been Epcot's lost Cuban pavilion. Not to mention the fact that in all my culinary travels in Cuba, not once was I ever asked to remove any headwear. So I found it somewhat ironic and a little pretentious that a restaurant named 'Cuba Libreâ?� would bar me from entering their establishment for not removing my hat. Free Cuba? Whatever.

    I made sure my cabeza was free of any gorras on my second visit, and irony of ironies, they sat me outside. Yes, the ghost of Fulgencio Batista was undoubtedly chuckling from beyond the grave, yet after sampling an overly diluted mojito ($8.50) and cuba libre ($9.50), I got a few laughs in myself (unfortunately they were of the snickering variety). But after being seated by my blasé hostess, things got remarkably better thanks in large part to former James Beard award-winner Guillermo Pernot ' the chain's concept chef and a maestro of Nuevo Latino cuisine. I knew restitution was at hand after sampling the subtly crunchy papas rellenas ($9.50). The deceptively light potato croquettes came filled with luscious beef picadillo laced with a smoky guajillo pepper sauce, and each subsequent dish maintained the same level of quality. Heavenly cuts of pulled braised duck inside the cool, crisp and refreshing pato roll ($11) made double-dipping into peanut and ponzu sauces a delight. The spring roll was equally herbaceous and sweet, thanks to watercress, cilantro, candied papaya and mango.

    An inordinate amount of time passed before our entrees arrived ' despite a phalanx of waiters and ear-pieced managers patrolling the 20,000 square-foot space, efficiency seemed to be compromised. No matter, I was giddy at the sight of the sea bass a la plancha ($25) when it finally arrived, and not one flaky bit of that chile/citrus/sesame-brushed fish failed to rouse. A nod to Havana's bustling Chinatown came in the form of a side of glistening 'Chino-Cubanoâ?� rice, colored with red peppers, okra, baby cauliflower, peas and carrots. Moros y Cristianos (literally 'Moors and Christiansâ?�), a blend of white rice and black beans, was the centerpiece in the plato cuba libre ($29.50), a platter of standard ropa vieja, succulent churrasco and an outstanding chicken infused with guajillo peppers. The trio of signature dishes in the platter changes nightly, but you're sure to get a representative sampling of traditional Cuban fare no matter what the night.

    You'd expect desserts to have tropical leanings and, sure enough, all comprise a fruity component. Tres leches de banana ($8) was wonderfully milky ' being soaked in three banana-flavored milks will do that, though I didn't know three banana-flavored milks even existed. Roasted pineapple accompanies the warm soufflé torte ($8), a pleasing capper layered with dulce de leche and served with dulce de leche gelato.

    Like the neighboring Capital Grille and Oceanaire Seafood Room, prices here aren't exactly recession-friendly. Passing the cost of running a grand establishment to the consumer isn't a novel tactic, but at least diners at Cuba Libre are treated to dishes of worth.

    And for that, I offer a tip of my forbidden cap.

    Japanese cuisine is all about harmony. Everything – from the food to the presentation to the restaurant's decor – is suppose to work together to create a flawlessly integrated and refreshing experience. But since my kind of sushi joint is the sort that blares music and uses Godzilla as a mascot, this concept of harmony remained foreign to me until I dined at Hanamizuki.

    Situated in a bland I-Drive strip mall, Hanamizuki has zero vibe from the outside. But inside is a spacious room with sage-green walls, elegantly minimalist decor, and a menu of refreshing depth and intrigue. An absolute lack of all things kitschy gives the place an unfussy, authentic air. The focus is on flavorful, expertly prepared food and enjoying it in the proper environment.

    Situated in a bland I-Drive strip mall, Hanamizuki has zero vibe from the outside. But inside is a spacious room with sage-green walls, elegantly minimalist decor, and a menu of refreshing depth and intrigue. An absolute lack of all things kitschy gives the place an unfussy, authentic air. The focus is on flavorful, expertly prepared food and enjoying it in the proper environment.

    My dining partner and I opted for courtside seats at the sushi bar. Hanamizuki's expansive menu is an invitation to experiment, so we kicked off with two appetizers, tako su ($6) and ika nuta ($5). The former was a small salad of sliced octopus that was well-complemented by a soy-sauce dressing with a distinct bacon flavor. The latter was a small bowl of squid and scallions blended with a sauce of white soybean paste, vinegar and a hot mustard with a delightful kick.

    My dining partner and I opted for courtside seats at the sushi bar. Hanamizuki's expansive menu is an invitation to experiment, so we kicked off with two appetizers, tako su ($6) and ika nuta ($5). The former was a small salad of sliced octopus that was well-complemented by a soy-sauce dressing with a distinct bacon flavor. The latter was a small bowl of squid and scallions blended with a sauce of white soybean paste, vinegar and a hot mustard with a delightful kick.

    Pleased thus far, we moved onto the more traditional sashimi and maki-style sushi (rolled with rice). Moriawase ($20 and up) is the chef's selection of the day's best raw fish. Presented with little fanfare on a medium-size white plate, the dish focuses totally on the superb sliced fish. Fresh and firm with barely a scent from the sea, this was top-notch sashimi (at nearly $2 a bite.) The tightly wrapped maki-style rolls were neatly presented, with the very spicy cod being our favorite.

    Pleased thus far, we moved onto the more traditional sashimi and maki-style sushi (rolled with rice). Moriawase ($20 and up) is the chef's selection of the day's best raw fish. Presented with little fanfare on a medium-size white plate, the dish focuses totally on the superb sliced fish. Fresh and firm with barely a scent from the sea, this was top-notch sashimi (at nearly $2 a bite.) The tightly wrapped maki-style rolls were neatly presented, with the very spicy cod being our favorite.

    From the menu's grilled and fried sections, we liked the "beef nagima yaki" ($15), a substantial plate of small rolls of thinly sliced, if a bit dry, grilled beef surrounding enticingly crunchy braised scallions flavored by soy sauce. And the "kashige combination" ($15) boasts 10 skewers, each with one crisp piece of seafood, meat or vegetable (the onion was our favorite). All were deep fried in a very light batter that recalled coconut shavings.

    From the menu's grilled and fried sections, we liked the "beef nagima yaki" ($15), a substantial plate of small rolls of thinly sliced, if a bit dry, grilled beef surrounding enticingly crunchy braised scallions flavored by soy sauce. And the "kashige combination" ($15) boasts 10 skewers, each with one crisp piece of seafood, meat or vegetable (the onion was our favorite). All were deep fried in a very light batter that recalled coconut shavings.

    Our sole misadventure was mozuku tororo ($7), a ghastly blend of grated yam and mozuku seaweed in a viscous broth, topped with a raw quail egg. We attempted to eat it with chopsticks, which brought chuckles from the chef and waitress.

    Our sole misadventure was mozuku tororo ($7), a ghastly blend of grated yam and mozuku seaweed in a viscous broth, topped with a raw quail egg. We attempted to eat it with chopsticks, which brought chuckles from the chef and waitress.

    Our otherwise exquisite meal was topped off by Japanese ice cream enhanced with red-bean toppings – a graceful way to end this feast. Hanamizuki isn't cheap, but it is a most gracious and delicious way to enjoy the foods of Japan.

    Highball & Harvest
    The Ritz-Carlton’s farm-to-table resto caters to the city’s food-conscious millennials with Southern-inspired dishes employing local, farm-fresh ingredients. While some flavor and texture combinations need to be worked on (blackened grouper with an incompatible hominy ragout, for example), you’ll mostly find competently executed plates of comfort food issuing from Mark Jeffers’ kitchen. You won’t go wrong with a starter of duck and andouille gumbo, followed by an outstanding skirt steak, capped with sticky toffee pudding for dessert. Don’t miss ham-hock-infused boiled peanuts.

    When you want to soak up the flavor of Key West -- the last link in the archipelago that reaches from south Miami to the open seas -- but don't want to travel, a visit to Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville might satisfy at least the drink-and-be-merry craving. Some tricky navigation is necessary, though, to find the way through the maze of parking garages and electronic people-movers at Universal Studios Escape. Just when you're ready to give up, you arrive in the heart of glitzy CityWalk, where the Jimmy Buffet-inspired party house fits right in.

    For another paradigm shift, step inside the re-created Margaritaville, which is steeped in the icons of Key West. If you could accuse this restaurant of any one thing, it would be the cartoonish, commercialization of the romanticized hideaway Buffet paid homage to in his '70s song. Witness the margarita volcano that erupts over the bar periodically and the well-stocked gift shop. The sherbet shades of gingerbread houses are perfectly refabricated here, minus the morning-after stench of Duval Street and the stray pop-tops underfoot. Safe, clean and wholesome, it's certainly not the real Key West, but then we went there for the food.

    For another paradigm shift, step inside the re-created Margaritaville, which is steeped in the icons of Key West. If you could accuse this restaurant of any one thing, it would be the cartoonish, commercialization of the romanticized hideaway Buffet paid homage to in his '70s song. Witness the margarita volcano that erupts over the bar periodically and the well-stocked gift shop. The sherbet shades of gingerbread houses are perfectly refabricated here, minus the morning-after stench of Duval Street and the stray pop-tops underfoot. Safe, clean and wholesome, it's certainly not the real Key West, but then we went there for the food.

    On a previous visit, the conch fritters ($6.45) were in top form: sizzling, sweet, meaty and blissfully free of chewy, unidentified objects. This time, they were a disappointment -- overly battered and weak on the conch. Fortunately, the "pink crustaceans" crab cakes ($16.95) were loaded with blue crabmeat, pan-sautéed with spices, fresh mixed vegetables and potatoes to perfection.

    On a previous visit, the conch fritters ($6.45) were in top form: sizzling, sweet, meaty and blissfully free of chewy, unidentified objects. This time, they were a disappointment -- overly battered and weak on the conch. Fortunately, the "pink crustaceans" crab cakes ($16.95) were loaded with blue crabmeat, pan-sautéed with spices, fresh mixed vegetables and potatoes to perfection.

    While my guest loved "Jimmy's jammin' jambalaya" ($12.95), I thought the spices were far too tame. Still, there were generous amounts of shrimp, chicken, andouille sausage and Cajun rice.

    While my guest loved "Jimmy's jammin' jambalaya" ($12.95), I thought the spices were far too tame. Still, there were generous amounts of shrimp, chicken, andouille sausage and Cajun rice.

    When dessert arrived, my guest was skeptical. True Key lime pie ($4.95) should never be weighed down with a cream-based preparation, she said, as was the case here -- it makes it too heavy and oily. This version was prepared with a 100-year-old lime-juice recipe from the famed Joe & Nellie's factory in Key West, and it was properly tart and tangy without too much of the pucker factor. It sported a fluffy meringue and crisp graham-cracker crust, but I had to admit it didn't pass the ultimate dessert test, which is to say, I probably would not order it next time.

    When dessert arrived, my guest was skeptical. True Key lime pie ($4.95) should never be weighed down with a cream-based preparation, she said, as was the case here -- it makes it too heavy and oily. This version was prepared with a 100-year-old lime-juice recipe from the famed Joe & Nellie's factory in Key West, and it was properly tart and tangy without too much of the pucker factor. It sported a fluffy meringue and crisp graham-cracker crust, but I had to admit it didn't pass the ultimate dessert test, which is to say, I probably would not order it next time.

    Our waiter was knowledgeable about the menu, and he had a casual, friendly efficiency without interfering. In the end, our trip to the theme-park Margaritaville was all flash with just a little substance. It was noisy. It was crowded. The food was OK. But there was an ocean of margarita varieties. What more could a Parrothead want?

    Most foodies view chains as vessels of formulaic food assemblage serving only to propagate the conventional while inhibiting any semblance of culinary creativity. An elitist posture, to be sure, though not entirely without merit, particularly in our chain-riddled hamlet. But this gussied-up seafood room not only dismisses the notion, it shatters it, and, further, makes you thankful that Orlando is one of 14 cities to have the Minnesota-based chain sail into town.

    The primary reason is the undeniable quality and freshness of the product. Their printed menu listed 25 varieties of sea creature, of which 18 had check marks next to them – an indication of the day’s catch. They claim that what sits on your plate today may have been swimming the day before. For a seafood joint, that makes all the difference in the world.

    Oceanaire replicates a spacious ocean liner supper club steeped in 1930s nostalgia and replete with art deco flourishes: polished cherrywood paneling inlaid with chrome, sleek sweeping curves, recessed lighting, hardwood floors. You may even find yourself shimmying to the boogie-woogie swing as you pass the well-chilled bivalve bar on the way to your padded high-backed booth. Only rustic touches like the piscine taxidermy spoil the mood. At times, overly attentive waiters can do the same, but for the most part service is accommodating and first-class all the way.

    Not wanting to indulge in a full order of Alaskan king crab legs ($56.95), I was allowed to order a half portion ($28.95), which amounted to one enormously spindly extremity encasing beautifully sweet flesh. A dip in melted butter, kept warm over a candle flame, served to enhance the succulence. A better-than-average ceviche pescado ($12.95) comprised diced Ecuadorian mahi mahi and Costa Rican wahoo ono “cooked” in a pineapple-orange-lime juice marinade. Bursts of fresh cilantro mingled with the mild tang of the fish, but the starter lacked the zing of rocoto, or any zippy pepper for that matter.

    Any of the available fish can be ordered “simply grilled” or “broiled,” though an option to “dirty” any of day’s catch with Cajun spices is also offered. Opting for a purist approach, we chose to simply grill the 16-ounce Alaskan halibut T-bone ($35.95) in olive oil, lemon and rock salt and ordered it “medium” as per our waiter’s suggestion. The thick, meaty slab was near-perfect in its austerity, the center bone adding a lovely mild and subtly sweet flavor, though my dining partner felt the flesh veered towards the dry side.

    I hate de-boning fish, but my waiter was happy to perform a tableside skeletal removal of the whole Mediterranean branzino ($34.95), a European sea bass steamed to liberate its delicate flavors. The brilliantly buttery, shimmering-skinned fish in a zesty lemon-beurre sauce with capers and kalamata olives was melt-in-your-mouth marvelous.

    Sides are offered family-style, and in our quest for substance and comfort we opted for the baked blue cheese and macaroni ($7.95), a fine but incongruous dish. Needless to say, portions are huge here, so filling up on home-baked sourdough bread and the relish tray of pickled herring and crudités will encroach on your desire for dessert. Aside from a Dixie cup of ice cream (95¢), desserts are, expectedly, enormous, but none so enormous as the caramel brownie deluxe ($13.95). A gargantuan brownie wedge, flanked by two scoops of ice cream and capped with a dollop of cream, is laid on the table before a waiter slathers it with homemade caramel and fudge poured from two stainless steel sauce boats. Crème brûlée ($7.95), served in a shell-shaped dish, had the proper crackle and rich consistency.

    Nowhere beyond the sea are its inhabitants more freshly served than here – nary an old fish sullies this kitchen. The budget-busting prices and I-Drive locale may alienate some diners, but in a town sorely lacking in fine seafood establishments, it’s a pleasure to see a restaurant raise the bar, even if it is a chain.

    When we first drove up, we were greeted by harsh fluorescents dipping into the strip-mall parking lot. Surrounded by rental cars, timeshares and newly built hotels, this area of the Orlando dining scene is difficult to figure out. There are mostly chain restaurants, but somehow they fit together – Olive Garden and Taco Bell alongside Marriott and Hilton. But a family-operated Venezuelan hole-in-the-wall? Q'Kenan (pronounced koo-ke-nan) certainly adds something unique to this mix but, even better, the cuisine is deserving of special attention.

    Although Q'Kenan is nothing more than a sparse room with brightly colored walls and intense overhead lighting, the food speaks rapturous volumes. A long counter with chafing dishes full of homemade Latin stews runs the length of the restaurant. It's also part grocery store, and there is an assortment of candy bars and T-shirts with "Venezuela" scrawled across the front in red, blue and yellow. In fact, the owner previously operated a Venezuelan grocery on State Road 192, but sold it because she wanted to introduce Central Floridians to a wider range of food from her homeland.

    The restaurant name refers to a plateau-type mountain in the highlands of southern Venezuela. At Q'Kenan, you ARE likely to get a mountain of food, so come hungry. Take, for instance, the parrilla tepui mixta ($10.99) that my friend ordered. The mountain range of a dish came with a hearty portion of pork chop, chicken breast, skirt steak and sausage, all nicely seasoned and expertly grilled. It was served with a heap of french fries, yuca, green salad and – last but not least – a grilled arepa, the Venezuelan sandwich staple.

    Before delving into any of the entrees, we sampled the tequeños ($4.99) starter, described as cheese sticks. Neither battered nor deep-fried, these finger snacks were covered in a yeasty bread that tightly wound around homemade Venezuelan cheese. The bread was slightly sour and salty like a Bavarian pretzel, and the cheese had a soft, mellow tanginess. Another starter, and the one that will keep me coming back again and again, is the cachapas: sweet corn pancakes folded in half crepe-style and stuffed with a delicious assortment of cheeses and meats. We tried the cachapas with queso rallado ($4.50), a strongly aged Venezuelan cheese. Sweet corn peeked through these quarter-inch thick pancakes. The cheese within made them moist and bright in flavor. Dipped in homemade crema, a sauce much like seasoned sour cream, they were wonderful.

    My husband talked me into getting madurito ($4.99), and I wasn't all that excited about it until I took the first bite. Basically, it's a sandwich of shredded beef, lettuce and tomatoes between two large pieces of fried plantain (in place of bread). You can't really hold it like a sandwich because 1) it's dripping with a tartar-like sauce, and 2) fried plantains aren't very sturdy. But I loved how the sweet plantain tasted against the backdrop of the spicy shredded beef, called pabellón.

    Q'Kenan has a wide selection of arepas, another type of corn pancake that's savory and dry. They can be served plain but are often opened like a pocket and stuffed with fillings, then wrapped in paper to munch down one-handed. I tried one with cold chicken salad and avocado ($3.99) stuffed into a crisp, warm, freshly made arepa. Our waitress suggested the one stuffed with pabellón, black beans and cheese ($4.25), and if I hadn't already been so full, I would've indulged. I did manage a bite or two of tres leches ($2.50), but by the time I got up to leave I was feeling quite like a mountain myself.

    Ra Sushi
    Trendy sushi joint is a magnet for the uninitiated, so those looking for a slightly more authentic sushi experience need look elsewhere. While flavor fizzles in such dishes as “Ra”-ckin Shrimp and “Ra”-llipops, striped-bass nigiri and octopus sashimi shine. The cocktail crowd can feast on sushi and drink specials weekdays from 4-7 p.m.

    I waited a long time for Shiraz Grill to open. Each time I drove by and saw the lights of the restaurant's stylized marquee illuminating a Moghul-style font, I drooled at the notion of devouring their charbroiled kebabs. And when it finally opened a couple of months later, my drooling problem had ceased, only to be supplanted by full-fledged salivary incontinence in anticipation of my first meal here.

    Shiraz Grill is a pet project of chef/owner Ali Zarazel, an IT professional by trade who, like so many budding restaurateurs, left his day job to devote all his time and energy into running a restaurant. A bold move, to say the least, but Zarazel possesses an acute understanding and passion for the culinary variations of his home country of Iran, not to mention an unfailing entrepreneurial spirit ' qualities that could tip the scales of success in his favor.

    Flamenco and belly dancers shake and shimmy through Shiraz Grill's hookah-friendly patio on weekend nights, but it's the kitchen that ultimately struts its stuff. Kashk o bademjan ($6.95), a smoky starter of pureed aubergines drizzled with cream of whey, is as dip-worthy as any hummus, and livened further by a finish of dried mint and sweet fried onions. The hummus ($6.95) is infused with more garlic than in other Middle Eastern establishments, while the falafel ($6.95) was more crumbly than crisp.

    I'll get to the kebabs, but not before a mention of the outstanding khoreshts, or Persian stews. If I weren't such a kebabophile, I'd luxuriate in the smooth, rich pomegranate sauce of the khoresht e fesenjan ($14.95) each time out. The dusky stew is made with chicken and sprinkled with walnuts, but it's the pomegranate sauce that makes an immediate impression on the palate, and a lasting one at that. Faintly sweet khoresht e qeymeh ($14.95) is a milder stew of cubed sirloin, coriander and fenugreek leaves, zested with dried lime. Both dishes are best enjoyed with zereshk polo ($6.99), a hillock of rice pilaf perfumed with saffron and jeweled with sweet crimson barberries.

    Zereshk polo is, in fact, my carb of choice when enjoying the real pièces de résistance, those exquisite plates of skewered meats bathed in a sublime marinade of olive oil, saffron and garlic. The shish kebab ($18.95) is a regal course of exceptionally pliant chunks of filet mignon interspersed with onions, green peppers and tomatoes, while the koobideh kabob ($11.95), two skewers of lean ground beef, has a workingman's price, but is equally rich in flavor.

    Each buxom bite of boneless chicken breast ($16.95) is as succulent as the next, but a freckling of lemony sumac gives just the right zing. Chicken tenderloin ($18.95) is sectioned, pounded, then marinated before being carefully threaded onto a skewer, resulting in morsels undulating in contour, though slightly dry.

    Closure is provided by a glacial orb of syrupy sweet faloodeh ($4.50), a toothsome and refreshing dessert made popular in Shiraz, Iran. Thin vermicelli noodles are frozen in cornstarch and drowned in rosewater. Also worth a try is the bastani ($4.50), a creamy pistachio ice cream made fresh on the premises.

    I've had the pleasure of dining here on numerous occasions, and the restaurant refines itself with every subsequent visit. Fine tapestries and brocaded curtains accentuate a gleaming interior, and the wait staff serves with a cheerful alacrity, though they can be easily distracted. Yeah, the cheesy Persian music videos are a little tiring, and the prices are high, but an $8.95 lunch buffet is one of the best deals in town, and an irresistible, even mouthwatering, lure.

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