A few weeks ago I read a restaurant review of A Taste of Persia, a new eating spot near Union Square in Manhattan. The review was by Ligaya Mishan, who writes a NY Times column called Hungry City. The piece was delightful, with paragraphs like this:
“For two decades, Mr. [Saeed] Pourkay, a Tehrani émigré, ran a print shop across the street from the pizzeria. After cashing out his share in the business a few years ago (to go “searching for my happiness,” he said), he started selling ash reshteh, a wondrous, wintry, outrageously thick Persian soup, at the Union Square Holiday Market. Fans clamored. Happiness was found. This past March, he returned to 18th Street and set up under his former neighbor’s roof. Here, in an imposing vat, is the justly fabled ash reshteh, a result of the eight-hour communion of five kinds of beans, a riot of herbs and onion cooked down to a sweet density. Dark and luxuriant, it has no broth and only a trace of oil. Broken strands of linguine snake through it. Fenugreek lurks, faint but insistently bittersweet, underscoring cinnamon, cardamom and ginger. But it is the garnishes that turn it into poetry: caramelized, verging-on-burned garlic; dried mint flicked in a pan; crispy fried onion; and a swirl of kashk, a Persian whey more sour than yogurt, with a bite like feta.”
This was a chef whose food I really wanted to taste.
Last Sunday, which happened to be my birthday, Kyle and I headed out to the Brooklyn Book Festival. We had a great time at this event which for us has replaced BEA as the most enjoyable book event on our literary calendar. I’ll post some pictures from the fair later, and meantime here’s just one of the shots that Kyle took.
After nearly 3 hours in Brooklyn, enjoying the crisp autumn air, blue skies, bright sunshine, and many serendipitous encounters with friendly bookpeople, we took the subway back in to Manhattan and walked over to 18th Street for our first meal at A Taste of Persia.
Not as spicy as some overly familiar Indian fare, the dishes we tried were distinctive and different from any similar food we’ve encountered in the city. The tastes and textures left no doubt that the dishes had simmered for hours. There was a smoothness and total mingling of flavors that only comes from slow and patient cooking. We met Chef Pourkay, as genial and hospitable as any maitre’d you’ll ever be greeted by in a four-star hotel dining room. He exudes genuine warmth and takes great pride in serving this food. Even after we’d finished our angus beef stew with celery and a chick pea dish cooked with tomato and cilantro, he offered us a gratis take-away sample of a lamb stew he’d just finished preparing.
We met two other diners, one of whom said he works in the fashion industry. These Iranian New Yorkers were breaking up pieces of a soft flatbread and dunking them in a savory soup. Chatting with them while Chef Pourkay readied our take-away, I told them that I enjoy listening to Iranian-Canadian Jian Ghomeshi, host of CBC Radio’s daily culture and current affairs program “Q”, which is carried in New York City on WNYC FM weeknights at 10 PM. I told them and Chef Pourkay that I will urge Jian to visit A Taste of Persia the next time he comes to NY for a live taping of “Q.” I’m sure he’ll love the food. Below are photos Kyle and I took during our visit to the restaurant. What a great way to spend my birthday!