In the wide world of kebabs, many of us still think first of marinated squares of meat, usually chewy, grilled on a stick. Yet at Zareen's, a contemporary Pakistani halal and Indian cafe in Mountain View, delicate Pakistani kebabs occupy the opposite end of the spectrum: mildly spiced, ethereally soft patties of finely ground meat with fresh herbs and spices.
Since March of this year, Zareen's has been located in a Mountain View strip mall of restaurants, just off Shoreline Boulevard and surrounded by Google buildings. There are 15 seats inside and a smattering of picnic tables outside. Bustling with action in the kitchen and customers coming in and out, Zareen's has a city feel. Warm, tomato-hued walls are lined with tables scrunched close together. The decoration consists mainly of a chalkboard menu and books hanging from strings, ranging from Malala Yousafzai's "I Am Malala" to "The Poems of Emily Dickinson."
Upping the comfort level, the staff is very welcoming in person and on the phone. They offer complementary sweet chai tea while you wait.
The other important thing to know about Zareen's: It's a small place where food is cooked to order. If you're in a hurry, call ahead or order online
Zareen's contemporary take on meat-focused Pakistani cuisine embraces vegetarian options and local produce, with nothing sitting around. As one enthusiast noted, you taste the food, not the oil it was cooked in.
One of our favorites was the Madras paneer wrap ($7.99). Each bite offered a variety of ingredients: cubes of fresh cheese, curry rice, corn, carrots, cucumber, herbs and lentils wrapped in a light yet sturdy paratha flatbread.
Plain griddled paratha ($1.50), with its crinkled skin and buttery flavor, is also a joy.
Also terrific, the Punjabi chicken burger ($7.99) is a succulent patty of free-range chicken with chutney, onions, cilantro, tomato and iceberg lettuce sandwiched by a ballpark-type bun. It comes with spicy fries or a side salad. If you aren't eating immediately, get the salad. It's a lightly pickled, slightly spicy mix of cucumber, carrots, corn and cilantro.
This refreshing salad accompanies all the curry and kebab meals, which also come with rice, naan, a dab of dal and a yogurt raita. The chicken in the chicken tikka masala meal ($8.99) was cooked and spiced nicely, but there wasn't much of it. The naan came wrapped in foil, which kept it warm but also steamed and chewy, as if microwaved.
Beef gola and shami kebabs ($7.99) are signature dishes. Gola kebabs are large, round and pillow-soft, tenderized with papaya. Shami kebabs involve a reduction of lentil stew, pan-fried like crabcakes.
Pakistani kebabs are hard to get right. They easily come out very dry or too fat, or they fall apart. Zareen's owner, Zareen Zhan, grew up on Burns Road in Karachi, Pakistan -- a district famous for its food stalls. She knows a good kebab when she tastes it. After moving to the Silicon Valley to work in product management, she started teaching cooking classes in her own kitchen, her recipes merging Pakistani halal foods with sustainable ideals including compostable containers and menu items marked free of gluten, nuts, dairy and eggs. Zhan began selling her kebabs, fresh or frozen, and then moved into corporate catering. Now the catering is done from the tiny Mountain View kitchen.
Zareen's has no beer or wine, yet the beverage offerings are strong. Besides the luscious chai, Zareen's mango lassi ($3.80) is particularly light and fresh, not goopy. And there are calorie-free treats such as fennel water ($1.80).
For many, the biggest treat comes on weekends, with the Pakistani halwa puri brunch ($8.99): a platter of aloo bhujia (potato curry), cholay (chickpea), crispy puri-paratha (fried bread) and sweet semolina halwa dessert. The brunch platter is available until 3 p.m. on Saturday and Sundays -- no exceptions.
Finally, there's a 10 percent surcharge for dining in. This presumably covers the cost of real utensils, metal trays and table service.
There are a couple of areas for improvement. The samosas ($3.99) could be less greasy, prices seem to vary and the website may not be exactly up-to-date.
1477 Plymouth Drive, #C, Mountain View
Sunday-Thursday, 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m., 4-9 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m., 4-10 p.m.
Credit cards: yes
Parking: Parking lot
Outdoor dining: yes
Party and banquet facilities: no
Noise level: medium