THE ALL-TIME most profound use of Metro's amplified sound system was enacted by a certain #43 driver, a man with true vision and restraint, who regularly maintained total silence for his entire route. He hardly nodded when a rider exited and wished him a good day. His vow of taciturnity had a blanketing effect, drawing a heavy air of silence over even the most voluble middle-schooler, eventually snuffing out one's desire to speak ever again. As the bus plunged into the valley of Ballard, the microphone crackled. We pulled abreast of a certain fast-food chain that promises "finger-lickin'" product, and, with the solemnity of an undertaker, our driver announced, "K... F... C."

Like any brilliant work of art, this performance still confounds me. Perhaps this driver cared very much for the Colonel's chicken. Or was he pointing out to his busload of students in the school of reticence the dire condition Ballard's culinary culture was in?

The driver's oblique commentary about Ballard, though ethereal, spoke directly to me. I went instead to Seattle's industrial district and dropped a wad at a delightful Persian restaurant. I was all atremble to witness the gyrations of belly dancers, punctuated with finger cymbals and sparkly adornments, while feasting on lamb, beef, and chicken kebabs. When we arrived at Kolbeh, the expansive dining room--hung with rugs, traditional costumes, and varied velvet paintings--was eerily empty. Saturday night at 7:30, and ice cubes tinkling in glasses were ear-shatteringly loud. Where were the chain-mail brassieres and kohl-lined eyes?

My hedonist heart palpitated as I worked my way down the succulent lamb kebab ($21.99), spread upon a bed of onions and roasted tomatoes on a two-foot-long silver platter. Fellow diners quietly scooped up Baghali rice ($5) with dill and lima beans, the perfect accompaniment to the lamb. We sampled the three-kebab mother lode ($25.99), which involved Barg, beef tenderloin marinated in onion and lemon with a hint of spicy heat; Joojeh, chicken with saffron; and Koobideh (the jewel of the platter), ground beef "massaged" with onion. Many satisfied sighs issued from our table, as we feasted on aromatic Zareshk rice ($5) laced with saffron and wild Persian barberries, and Kashk-o-bademjan ($7.50), a heavenly concoction of roasted eggplant and tomatoes whipped up with mint, garlic, and homemade yogurt. Even the green salad--chock full of marinated onions, with a tangy mint vinaigrette--was zesty.

On the downside of fine dining in Persia, only three red wines were offered, ranging from the house red ($17 a bottle) to Columbia Crest crap ($25 a bottle! Gasp!). I am well known for my stomach of steel and a similar palate, but I can still taste $5 wine, regardless of the price tag. While I'm getting punchy, the Khoresht Bomeyeh ($8.99) was about three pieces of okra stewed in a very thin, very canned tomato sauce. Okay, so they don't deliberate on wine and vegetables. But after paying five times the appropriate price, you'd think they'd let us stay and watch the belly-dancing.

Boy, were we wrong. It was a little after 10:00 p.m. and our party was settling up our $200 check, when the host came over and demanded that we each cough up another $10 for the entertainment. He would not let the belly dancer onstage until we left or paid. We brushed the crumbs from our mediocre baklava ($4), downed our Persian tea brewed with cardamom (99¢), and pushed past the crowd assembled at the door. Suddenly this quiet, family-run restaurant had transformed into an exotic nightclub. Men in conservative suits spoke Farsi into cell phones, their head-scarf-toting mothers and wives waiting in line next to them.

I boarded the #22 bus with a deep and abiding respect for Kolbeh's exquisite meat dishes--a little perplexed and saddened that swillers of wine, lovers of vegetables, and those who wished to see belly dancing without outrageous fees must suffer once again.

kessler@thestranger.com

Kolbeh

1956 First Ave S, 224-9999. Mon-Wed 11 am-10 pm, Thurs-Sat 11 am-2 am, Sun 11 am-midnight. Arabic dancing Thurs-Fri, Persian entertainment Sat-Sun, 10 pm, over 21, $10. Beer and wine only. $$.

Price Scale (per entrée)

$ = $10 and under; $$ = $10-$20; $$$ = $20 and up.

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