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Persian diversion 

Shiraz on Hollis gets a big brother, Parseh Shiraz, in Bedford. Liz Feltham says it's worth the trip.

When I reviewed Shiraz, the little purple bunker at the south end of Hollis, I promptly fell in love with Persian food. Each time I toted my lunch out of this impossibly tiny restaurant, I wished the place was bigger and closer to home.

It seems Shiraz owner Ebby Gholami was thinking along the same lines: Parseh Shiraz opened in the Stardust Motel last October, in the former home of the ill-fated Bedford Prime steakhouse.

The interior retains the steakhouse's touches, like real hardwood floors and beautiful wine racks, while adding an Iranian feel with various Persian musical instruments on display.

It's a lovely, relaxed atmosphere with the food firmly established as the centrepiece. We start with the combination platter ($12.95)---a variety of dips and spreads with pita bread. Kashke-bademjan (pureed eggplant with yogurt sauce), delightful dolmeh (stuffed grape leaves), hummus, cucumber, tomato, feta cheese, Greek olives and mast-o-khiar (yogurt with mint and cucumber) combine to set expectations for what's to follow. Everything is delicious, but the dolmehs are exceptional. Smaller than the grape leaves typically served, these cigar-shaped packages are filled with rice and mint, parsley and tarragon. It's obvious these didn't come from a can and our server confirms they're made by a friend of the owner.

Turshi ($3.95) is a wake-up for the taste buds; this puree of marinated vegetables is vinegary and cuts through smoother textures of the hummus and kashke-bademjan nicely. A Persian soup called ash reshteh ($4.95) highlights spinach, pinto beans and noodles; garnished with fried mint and garlic, it's fabulously complex.

Main courses live up to the promise of the starters. Chicken curry stew ($9.95), in a tomato-based curry sauce, packs a hot wallop without sacrificing flavour or your tongue. Fesenjon stew ($12.95) is a turnoff at first with its mud-brown, sludgy texture, but this is fantastic. Chicken, walnuts and pomegranate juice come together beautifully unlike anything I've eaten in Halifax.

Our server has a remarkable memory. He recognizes me from a visit two months ago, pointing out where I sat and describing who I was with. Pretty impressive---enough to allow me to overlook his only slip, which was to remove the wine list much too quickly. Otherwise, the service is seamless---warm, friendly and knowledgeable.

We finish with a portion of excellent baklava, a less sweet version of its Greek cousin, and Persian saffron rice pudding.

Because the restaurant is located in a notorious black hole for eateries---the past-its-prime Stardust Motel---I worry about longevity potential. (The only notable exception to this address' short-lived residency was Zorba's, which moved on to bigger digs.) To drum up interest with nearby office lunchers, Parseh offers a lunch buffet which features more familiar foods (such as salmon) for less adventurous Western diners, in addition to house specialties. I hear it's been moderately successful---an encouraging sign, since I'd hate to see Parseh close. This restaurant deserves to succeed.

I do have one small quibble, though: I've never been offered the "crispy" rice that typically comes with Persian meals. That's the rice that sticks to the sides of the pot when cooking and is considered a special treat. Next time, I'm asking.

Do you get enough crispy rice? Email food@thecoast.ca with sightings.

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