In the bottom drawer of my desk, tucked behind the Emergency Whiskey and a stack of unopened fan mail, there sits a book. Large and lovingly bound in exquisite leather, it is a comprehensive list of the things in this world which annoy me. Some of the entries are more detailed than others, the most thought-out being calmly expanded upon in iambic pentameter using my finest calligraphy set:
"Pompous weird-beards who mope their way around
parties until someone says, 'Is that your
guitar?' and they look shocked, almost as if
to say, 'Oh this, this vast wooden thing slung
across my back that hits Bren in the arm
each time I walk past him? I had almost
forgotten that I had it with me, bro',
then play the first four bars to 'Stairway' while
all the other moonheads gaze on rapt and
the rest of us remember that we have
work in the morning and must be leaving."
Others are hastily scrawled in a pygmy rage using half-chewed golf pencils and considerably more four-letter words. These typically involve things that bother me about work, whatever slang is currently en vogue and things I see on television. Television is a scourge, particularly the advertisements, and several pages of my manifesto are devoted entirely to things like:
"Slap Chop Man: I wish that hooker had bitten off your tongue"
"Viagra: There is nothing at all wrong with your penis. It has retired from active service because it understands you to be too ugly to attract a partner the old-fashioned way and your income stream insufficient to acquire one via the same means as Slap Chop Man."
"Billy Mays: That God took you and not Anthony Sullivan or Slap Chop Man proves that He takes some kind of demented joy in our suffering."
Turn off the television, head outside and a passing transit bus will remind you to eat at Shiki Sushi. Walk down the street and every person you pass will be wearing a shirt that advertises either alcohol or fashion brands made by wage slaves in a foreign country whose name sound like cookery tumbling down stairs. You simply cannot get away from advertisements and yet I seem to have stumbled across the one place that could benefit from a little more exposure. You can't expect Brasserie l'Ecole-type name recognition for a restaurant only 3 months old but the number of blank looks I get when I bring up Al-Sultan Restaurant suggest that a little more promotion couldn't hurt.
Al-Sultan sits in the nondescript spot formerly occupied by Ribs N Bones and aside from a sandwich board out front has little signage to suggest that there's anything of note inside, let alone a very good Middle-Eastern restaurant. This helps to explain the echoing emptiness when Dan & I arrived for dinner. Al-Sultan is much bigger on the inside than it appears to be, there are, rather optimistically, two floors set with tables and with white walls and a high ceiling it feels very open. With just two customers the silence was a touch oppressive but my hated enemy, music, helped to fill the gap and our waitress, who was accommodating and friendly, did a great job of pretending she couldn't hear every word we said. As the walls were bare except for some framed pictures of far-flung locales and several wooden coat-racks their decorator won't be winning any awards but everything was clean and bright.
I ordered the tzatziki with pita ($4.99) to start with the kebab ($14.99) from the "Sultan Specialties" menu as my entree, and Dan went with the dolmathes ($3.99) and the chicken with rice ($10.99). The tzatziki, accompanied by three large pitas, was the best that either Dan or I had ever tasted; freshly made with a hint of garlic and a refreshing cucumber taste that jumped right out at you. I wasn't nearly as happy with the dolmathes, rice and herbs wrapped in grape leaves, finding the rice too soft and the whole package too oily. Our appetizers were accompanied by a side of babaganoush and two pitas, which seemed odd as when the waitress had asked whether we wanted baba or hummus it seemed meant for the entree but we ate the lot anyways. I realized our mistake when the kebab arrived as three logs of beef, a grilled tomato, some chopped lettuce and raw white onion on a plate.
The beef was well-cooked but everything else on the plate seemed poorly thought out - raw onions? The only people who eat raw onions are the Russians, and that's because poverty and vodka have driven them to the brink of madness. Overall my meal had potential but didn't seem worth the price tag. Dan's meal, on the other hand, a large helping of spiced basmati rice with raisins and a baked chicken leg, seemed like a bargain. Once you tasted the rice you realized that bargain didn't quite cover it - it was a goddamned steal. Unless it's drowned in soy sauce Dan is not normally a fan of white rice but he couldn't get enough of this stuff and neither could I. I'm almost ashamed to say that my knowledge of spices begins with salt and ends with pepper, so I don't know exactly what spices were used but believe me when I say they were used to great effect. When ordering, Dan was given the choice of having his rice regular or spicy, spicy meaning the chef would add cinnamon, and he went with regular, so I'm eager to go back and see what cinnamon adds. His baked chicken was exactly that, a baked chicken thigh and nothing more, but it was baked just right, crispy on the outside and tender on the inside.
The eighteen-hundred block of Douglas street is a terrible place to put a restaurant. The lack of parking aside, any dining establishment that has to include "just down from the adult novelty shop" in its directions starts off at an enormous disadvantage. It would be one thing if the location were close to town but that far out the only people approaching on foot are ferret-faced men buying back issues of "Huge!" magazine and porcine women in jogging bottoms browsing for sexual aids only slightly smaller than an Exocet missile. Since that means most of Al-Sultan's potential walk-in trade has other things planned for their hands, the restaurant is going to be dependent on advertising and word of mouth to establish themselves. Since heavy advertising is beyond the means of many new businesses they're left with word of mouth and luckily for them the word is good. They're not perfect, some items on the menu need re-tooling and one or two price adjustments may be in order on certain entrees but overall the food is fresh, reasonably priced and served up fast. Hopefully they'll be around long enough to iron out the rough spots because Al-Sultan Restaurant is a welcome addition to Victoria's food scene.
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