An introductory lesson in Persian cuisine~
Having never had Persian food, I thought my first time would be best spent with one native to the cuisine. “Urban Gate” came highly recommended as one of our Persian host’s favourite. We came as a group to have our dinner navigated and food translated for the most authentic of experiences by her.
I stereotypically envisioned ornate rugs, rounded cushions and velvety curtains; instead we got a sports bar with faux leather booths, barstools, Canucks pendants, and flat screens. Completely not what I expected when I asked her to take us to the best place for Persian. The exterior was modern with their own parking garage under the building and its own grocery store adjacent. Both the restaurant and grocery were family owned and operated. Both shared the same name and the same black and green signs.
Waking in, the fist thing you notice is the large fish tank on your right. It is an underwater wonderland decorated with plastic plants and speckled pebbles, where a few tropical fish swam. Set atop were two large scale ships, wood waxed and sails spread. Both items were use to fill the glassless window ledge that separated the joining grocery store with the restaurant.
As I mentioned earlier the decor was that of your regular sports bar. A television round every corner and a pull down screen for more media to be protected on to. Tonight’s sporting event: darts. Who knew this was such a highly followed activity? The room was kept darken. Majority of the light came from the windows looking out on to the patio, and the back lit running water feature behind the bar. With spacious booths and long tables for family style sharing there was the possibility to host several large parties. And with secluded corners and tucked away nooks they had also had ideal seating for those wanting more privacy with their dinner.
The menu was a compilation of common and casual bar fare. But between the salads, burgers, and steaks, were Persian influences and Persian dishes. Calamari, nachos, and crispy lavash bread under bruschetta. Fettuccine Alfredo, chicken parm, and wraps marinated with Persian specific spices. Their slogan of “integrating the world of different tastes” was accurate. They offered something for everyone while catering to the demographic of their area.
“Dojh”. A traditional yogurt drink made with water and mint. It smelled and looked like salad dressing. Shockingly it was savory and not sweet like what you would expect from a creamy white drink with a thicker consistency. Apparently this is a healthier drink that keeps you cool when its hot, that also aids in digestion. There is also a westernized version that is sweeter and carbonated. Though the herbaceous-ness of the version before us was hard to get past without food, with its sour and watered down ranch-like taste. I am glad I got to try, but would never actually buy. I had another swig or two with my entree and found the spices in both really complimented one another. Still hard to drink with its texture, but better the second and third time around.
We were kept waiting for our appetizers but they were certainly worth the time. Once again flavours and textures I have never had together, and a true experience I am happy to have tried. “Kashke Bademjan”. Grilled eggplant mixed with whey sauce (kashk), spiced with special seasoning and garnished with fried mint, onion & garlic. And although it wasn’t listed on the menu we confirmed there were walnuts present. A dangerous fact not to mention for those with allergies, like one of my guests today. It certainly tasted a lot better than it looked. This thick and juicy mix was better eaten in large mouthfuls with the accompanying room temperature pita. Though the pita could have enhanced things by being toasted for a nice crunch.
This is the Persian equivalent of tzatziki made with shallots and yogurt. It tasted similar to the Greek tzatziki even without the use of dill and lemon. The spread had a cream cheese flavour with a Greek yogurt texture. A light taste with hints of tang and sour. And like tzatziki it pairs well with bread, rice, and grilled meats.
The “Urban signature kebab selections” are smaller cuts of meats, poultry, and vegetables threaded on a stick and cooked over a slow fire. Their technique of making Persian-style kebabs comes from their family’s Iranian traditions. Each order is served with a basmati rice cone topped with saffron, a BBQ roma tomato, raw red onion, a wedge of lemon, and a small house salad on the side. “Bakhtiari”. One skewer of “Barg”, Sirloin Steak marinated in yogurt, onion, and saffron. And one skewer of “Jujeh”, chicken marinated in lemon, yogurt and saffron.
For a little bit of everything we had the “Urban Persian Sampler”. 1/2 an order of “Jujeh”, chicken marinated in lemon, yogurt and saffron. 1/2 an order of “Barg”, Sirloin Steak marinated in yogurt, onion, and saffron. And a full kabob of “Koobideh”, ground beef & lamb, mixed with onion and spiced with saffron. All the meat was tender, each block consistently grilled from skewer to skewer; and surprisingly juicy for how lean it was. The rice was light and airy, it made the ideal base to allow the seasoned meat to shine as the star of the dish.
We unfortunately had one of our two sampler orders forgotten. Apologizes were given but nothing was done to make amends. By the time the second portion came out my guests who had ordered it to share were already full. They kept busy snacking on dips and filling up on pita as everyone else ate. I would have like to see a discount offered or a complimentary dessert given to better smooth over the situation.
“Gheimeh”. A red stew made with lentil beans, tomato paste, and lamb; and topped with potato sticks. It had a nice tart flavour to it from the stewed tomato, and a strong rich flavour from the saffron. The fried potato sticks on top gave a good crunch to compliment and contrast the softness of the lentils.
“Lamb shank” served over top “baghali polo” and accompanied with hot lamb broth & a house salad. “baghali polo” is basmati rice prepared with fava beans and dill. The rice was amazing, like regular basmati it was kept light and airy, but made savory with all the fresh herbs used. A taste that matched the gaminess of the lamb. I could have eaten the rice as it, it was so thoroughly seasoned and filling with the lentils. The broth was used more as a sauce to dip the tender pieces of lamb into.
There was no desert menu, all desserts came from the bakery and grocery store next door. Choose a slice of cake to eat in or take home a box of pastries at $10 per pound. Like the pub, they too offered Persian specialities intermingled with North American favourites. Cream puffs, fruit cakes, and chickpea cookies. Muffins, fruit Danishes, and baklava. “Falot”, a yellow cookie filled with jam”. And “Zoolbia”, deep fried sugar syrup.
A collection of pastries and sweets I purchased.
Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this for someone visiting from out of town? – Yes.
I can successful deem our first experience into the world of Persian cuisine a success. Out of our group of ten and us eight that made this our first time try, we all raved over what we had. Other then getting too full too fast on rice and pita we had no complaints. For me I found the food comforting with its similarities with Greek cooking. Familiar with seasoned rice, a slow roasted or gently grilled meat skewer, a side salad and the need for lemon. We were just missing the roasted potatoes, but were given roasted tomatoes in exchange. There was definitely value in our meal, things were even better as leftovers the next day. Overall great price for amount of food we got to enjoy. Don’t deny your cravings.