Sultan

Oh, Sultan; you are my new favorite for sure.  I don’t think I would be lying if I said that at Sultan I ate the best Indian food I’ve ever eaten.

I was scared of your spread at first because the first things I saw were a tossed green salad and a pasta salad.  A pasta salad at an Indian buffet?  I skipped it, but the green salad had olives in it, and I can’t resist olives.  Wow, I’m glad I did.  This was some bomb ass salad, fresh crisp and really garlicky.  Yum.  Next the pakoras, which I always always get at the buffets, but are almost always bad.  These were a revelation.   The best ever.  Super crispy, not doughy not greasy…like the best curly fries I’ve ever eaten.  I dipped them in an amazing tomato chutney.  The okra was like the okra I always try to make at home, but a hundred times better, sliced okra pan fried so it’s got a bit of a crunchy crust but is creamy in the middle and full of salty goodness.  The tandoori chicken was not the usual bright red drumettes you see at buffets, this tandoori chicken was gigantic pieces of supremely moist chicken.  I saw whole legs, breasts, huge drumsticks.  Like wow.  The lamb curry….oh my god, the lamb curry.  I have never had such rich unctuous lamb…deep velvety flavors, but not fatty.  And the dessert:

Holy cow.  I think the description card called this Indian bread pudding with saffron sauce.  It was like the most delicious french toast stick you can imagine, soaked in a richly sweet and spicy cream sauce. 

Sorry, am I gushing?  Do you want to hear the bad stuff?

Sultan is weird.  It has a weird layout; I’m almost always uncomfortable when a restaurant doesn’t have a proper hostess stand or foyer and just kind of opens up into a giant dining room.  And Sultan is kind of fancy, the furniture is all very nice, dark wood and leather and the walls are painted a tasteful dark-ish color, there isn’t the smoky air normally associated with Indian restaurants, but I’m pretty certain that the space Sultan inhabits was not a restaurant in its previous life.  It just doesn’t feel like an inviting place to eat.  I was pretty bummed that we were seated at a banquette table; ours was one of a row of two tops along a room length bench.  This is my very least favorite way to sit.  I don’t like how close most restaurants (including Sultan) squeeze in the two tops and I don’t like sitting on the same seat as the diners on either side of me.  I find it difficult to carry on a conversation when I’m sitting as close to my dining companion as to the person at the table next to me.  And speaking of my fellow diners, Sultan attracts a very certain kind of crowd, and that kind it seems is people in town for conferences.  On Saturday afternoon when we were there it was all folks wearing nametags from a sociology conference.  It’s not that big a deal, but I think anyone who lives in a big city will agree with this; it makes you a little uneasy to eat in a place where everyone else is from out of town.  In this case, it’s not an indication of Sultan’s quality, it’s a location thing.  Sultan is not in what I would consider to be the Tenderloin.  I would call this area the Theater District.  How can you tell the Theater District from the TL?  Well, it’s difficult to say, but I think it’s a comfort level.  If you’re a normal, and you feel totally comfortable on a sidewalk, you’re probably not in the Tenderloin.

But I digress.  It doesn’t matter if Sultan is in the TL or not.  What matters is that their lunch buffet costs 12 bucks, which is two or three dollars more than an average Indian buffet, but is leaps and bounds better than average.  I would love to go back to Sultan, and I would love to go with a group larger than two so I could sit at a normal table.  As much as I enjoyed my meal, I probably wouldn’t go to Sultan for dinner.  Ordering off the menu seems like a bit pricier proposition, and after all, Naan and Curry is right next door, and they will stink up my hair and give me heartburn.  Which is just what I want sometimes.

Sultan

340 O’Farrell St.