I could have been very late for dinner at Special Ostadi. My days are usually planned like overstuffed double decker sandwiches – everything smacked tight together and on the verge of exploding. Once something’s planned in, you can’t even attempt to sub stuff in and out because the entire day would just fall apart in a heap of mayo and veggies and salami. There’s no room for error – NONE at all.
- No room to wait for a shower cubicle to free up in the locker room after your swim.
- No room to have a WTF moment when you hear Flitsy Excitable Lady prattling away to the locker room attendant about how she's been noticing that women are carrying roach spray in their bags to kill the roaches in the gym showers.
- No room to re-contemplate whether you really want to shower once a cubicle frees up lest a roach scurry out of the drain.
- No room to scram out of the way as aforementioned Flitsy Excitable Lady starts tra-la-laing (I kid you not, such women exist. She existed in the locker room that day) around the locker room in her pink strappy knee-length frilled dress (cotton, good for summer, as she announced.)
- No room to do favors by agreeing to tie the stringy back piece on pink dress of Crazy Flitsy Excitable Pink Frilled Lady.
- And definitely no room to come back to your locker after you've grudgingly completed back-stringing favor and find a person tying their shoe lace right below your locker…WOMAN, ARE YOU LACING THOSE SHOES OR ICING THEM?!
But thankfully, I made it in time. Not because I was early, but because my dinner date and ultra-awesome talented (I-am-so-jealous-of-your-design-skills) blogger from AccordingtoDina got held up trying to find parking. Special Ostadi is crammed into Bur Dubai’s Musalla Road. If you know your roads, you’ll know that parking here is a royal nightmare. If you don’t know your roads, you will naively call the restaurant to check if there’s enough parking around and be fed a lie of the first order. “yeees, yes, parking in Musalla tower, Iranian school, Iranian hospital...” Beware, Musalla road will make you crawl around those blithering alleyways in hunger and misery. And none of those landmarks are walking distance in the heat. Needless to say, we crawled about quite a bit, Dina more so than I.
Luckily, there’s nothing that can’t be set aright with a hot bowl of hearty chunky chicken soup.
Iranian restaurants dish out some of the most soulful chicken soup in the city, and Special Ostadi, with over thirty years of Iranian family-style cooking muscle behind it, was no exception to that rule. They should have a sign on their door:
Sad because no easy parking? Come on in. We serve chicken soup for the soul (...that paid twenty dirhams for covered building parking).
Chicken soup for the parking harrowed soul
I wish the kababs could have lived up to chicken soup act. When I think of Iranian kababs, I think of the kind that Sadaf, another old time Iranian institution in Dubai, usually pampers me with. Tender melty ones that you can smush your teeth into like ripe mangoes, lazily letting the juicy chunks --> irresistibly flavorful meaty mush on your tongue without much chewing action at all. If Sadaf’s kababs are like meaty mangoes, then that night, Special Ostadi’s kababs were closer to sugarcane. I’d much rather have sucked out all the charred smokey meaty juices from the insides of the yogurt marinated and barbecued kababs, and then discreetly disposed of the rest of the somewhat not really tough, but not perfectly tender either, meat exterior. Needless to say, in my world of Iranian kababs, mangoes score way more points than sugarcanes.
A plate of the most sought after menu item – yogurt-marinated chicken and mutton Kabab Khas, aka "Special Kabab"
The disappointing kabab texture didn’t stop me from dunking them into the yogurt dip and scarfing them down anyway. But they were more like side players to my happy nonstop chatter with Dina – sort of like popcorn at the movies – rather than the focus of the meal.
Plate of Khorak Bahraini (mutton marinated in dry lemon) and chicken Kabab Koubideh (skewer of minced barbecued meat)
Now it could just be that Special Ostadi was having a bad grill day – and given the rave reviews I’ve heard about this place, I’m willing to believe that. But venturing out into the jungle that calls itself Musalla road is not happening again anytime soon.
We ended our meal with this…
Iranian chai with mint leaves on the side. So soothing, even more so because it was free.
…and little mint-seeming pellets that upon chewing, give way to a strangely textured synthetic pasty substance on the inside. Once you've forced the pasty bolus down your throat, you realize that the pellet skin has been left behind on your tongue – a glaringly papery and practically inedible skin that must have been the brainchild of someone who…relished the taste of newspaper? Dina and I were reminded of sugary sweets we’d had during our childhood in India – sugary cud with other strange tasteless yucky textured substances that I’d personally feed my child only if it were...a baby cow.
Anyhow, this place was on my list for some time now, and I can finally say that I’ve paid my respects to a restaurant that’s clearly an age-old institution – any place that has collected currency notes under the table glass has got to be. But the highlight of the evening was not the kababs. It was sinking in to two hours of lovely conversation, about everything under the sun…food, running, interiors, marriage, babies, swimming, cameras…with a fellow blogger who added the perfect layer of peace and inspiration into my sandwich-packed, pink-frilled frazzled day.
The talented inspirational Dina from AccordingtoDina. We were both on an energy high after our dinner chat...I could have almost tra-la-la'd out of the place myself.
Al Musalla Road, Bur Dubai
Phone: +971(4) 397-1469 ||+971(4) 397-2111 || +971(4) 397-1933