Header Ads

Breaking News

For Fans of Iran’s Sophisticated Cuisine, a Reason to Cheer

Category: Food & Drink,Lifestyle

Considering the history, the influence, the depth and the sophistication of Iranian food, it has always seemed unfair that New York City has so few places to eat it. Unfair to the cuisine and unfair to would-be eaters.

If you want a symbol for the state of the cuisine in New York City, Taste of Persia NYC will fit the bill. Until recently I might have called it the city’s most promising Iranian kitchen, if the word kitchen weren’t such a stretch. Taste of Persia is a takeout operation squeezed into the front window of a Chelsea pizzeria, except during the two months when fire damage forced it to take up temporary residence in a holiday market. It does show off some of the pleasures of the Iranian table, but not the table itself.

So a new Brooklyn restaurant called Sofreh, which joined the Iranian ranks in June, would have caused a stir even if the cooking weren’t quite as good as it is. The dining room is spare and modern, with exposed rafters, molded plywood chairs and shades of soft white. You have to look carefully to see the breaks with garden-variety minimalism, like the echoes of medieval arches behind the bar and the Persian calligraphy carved into the plaster in the back, where a small deck hangs above a garden. Minimalism surrenders entirely in the bathroom, papered in a pulpy collage of posters from pre-revolutionary Iranian cinema.

All summer, Iranian expats and hopeful fans of Iranian cuisine have been filing in, armed with questions: Does the saffron rice stand high in voluminous heaps of discrete grains? Are nigella seeds embedded in the dimpled, golden crusts of the oval loaves of barbari? Do the cold shards of sorbet frozen around threads of noodles in Sofreh’s faloodeh contain just enough rose water to soften the bite of lime syrup? Check, check and check.

The main dining room is on the street level of a Prospect Heights brownstone just off Flatbush Avenue, and the food is largely in a domestic mode. Nasim Alikhani, who owns the restaurant with her husband, Theodore Petroulas, is responsible for the menu.

Ms. Alikhani has never worked in a restaurant before. Rather than following the plating fashions of more trend-conscious chefs, she models the cooking after the things she might make when company comes over. Platoons of kebabs dominate the menus of other Iranian restaurants around town, but home kitchens are rarely built with vast indoor grills; Sofreh’s cooking, entrusted to two chefs named Ali Saboor and Soroosh Golbabae, revolves around the oven and stovetop.

A loaf of barbari, its crust baked to a Roman-pizza crackle in a revolving oven, is served with many of the appetizers, and it is always gone so soon that I end up ordering one or two more. This flatbread is of course ideal for tearing and swishing into the thick yogurt dips, one mixed with golden raisins and shredded cucumber, another with minced shallots and chives. It is indispensable with the eggplant mash enriched with walnuts, strained yogurt and sweet fried onions. A loaf of barbari is also spread with herbs and feta that is more creamy than briny.

Earlier in the summer Sofreh offered an appetizer of dry, underseasoned beef meatballs with sour cherries. One of the only things on the menu that was hard to warm up to, it has been replaced lately by beef kofte, made light and tender by rice and stewed split peas. The kofte sit in a gentle saffron-tomato sauce that is another natural partner for Sofreh’s bread.

Ms. Alikhani, 59, grew up in the sprawling desert city Isfahan, and moved to the United States in her early 20s. For years she cooked Iranian dishes from memory, and it would be decades before she traveled back to Iran to learn more about its food in preparation for opening Sofreh. Her version of ash, the herb and whole-wheat noodle stew, stands out on the menu because it stays so close to tradition. Other dishes show the acclimatizing effect of New York.

It’s an article of faith for chefs in the city that any dish can be improved by putting a poached egg on it. I’m not so sure that Sofreh’s smoked eggplant halves with their sweet, garlic-drenched tomato sauce need one, though.

Is the watermelon feta salad familiar from restaurants that have nothing to do with Iran? Maybe just a bit, but Sofreh’s version stands out for its intriguing sauce of nigella seeds crushed into mint oil. And while the Shiraz salad isn’t chopped to fine bits in the traditional way that makes it something like Iran’s answer to pico de gallo, its sour purple flecks of sumac distinguish it from the herd of tomato-cucumber assemblages.

The menu is fairly concise, and occasionally I wished that it plunged into tradition with less restraint. For a dish called “catch of the day,” Ms. Alikhani has adapted ghalieh mahi, a tamarind-soured stew of fish and fresh herbs from southern Iran. In her version, a pan-seared hunk of whitefish — halibut and cod have taken turns in the role — is set over a long-cooked sauce. Dark with caramelized onions and fried cilantro and fresh fenugreek leaves, the sauce is hypnotically complex. Still, a sauce sitting under fish is not the same as one that has been cooked with fish so the flavors can get acquainted.

A simple flattened and griddled half chicken, though, is a wonderful foil for a topping of tart barberries and a captivating sauce of dried Persian plums and saffron. And there’s lovely simplicity to the braised lamb shank with roasted garlic and sizzled onions; the turmeric- and cinnamon-scented sauce might have been put on this earth to be spooned over fluffy rice.

There is no shame in ending the meal with a goblet of thick yogurt parfait with jam and pistachios. But there are harder-to-find sweets, too, like the rose-water custard, grainy with rice flour, transformed into a sort of tart by a crust of chopped nuts. Saffron and rose-water ice cream is luxuriously rich despite a few stray ice crystals. And the faloodeh, one of the world’s oldest frozen desserts, will put to rest all doubts about the wisdom of embedding sorbet in a nest of vermicelli, if there were any doubts to begin with.

Follow NYT Food on Twitter and NYT Cooking on Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest. Get regular updates from NYT Cooking, with recipe suggestions, cooking tips and shopping advice.

Source link

No comments