Up to Pars

Pars Restaurant specializes in Northern Iranian cuisine, serving unique, delicious dishes with exceptional flavour.

Pars Restaurant’s ghormeh sabzi is savoury and rich with herbs.
Pars Restaurant’s ghormeh sabzi is savoury and rich with herbs.

Pars Restaurant specializes in northern Iranian cuisine, serving unique, delicious dishes with exceptional flavour. by Melissa Buote

Pars is a small, family-run restaurant with a menu influenced by the typical restaurant fare you might find in Tehran, as well as the home cooking from the northern provinces of Iran that run into the Caspian Sea. It's that region where the family that owns the restaurant is from.

It's quiet in the restaurant when my friend and I arrive: there is only one table of customers in the dining room. Quiet, happy chatter mixes with the soft, winding strains of Persian music that fills the room.

The air is scented with Middle Eastern spices, with a sultry base note of charcoal. The L-shaped dining room is bright and welcoming. Cool honeyed yellow and melon orange walls are rimmed with wood, and maroon booths give the room the relaxed feel of a neighbourhood diner.

We choose one of the booths by the window that overlooks Robie Street. Our server brings us some menus and water, leaving us to look over the small, varied selection.

He returns shortly, and walks us through the stews and kebabs, letting us know what he has found appeals most to Canadian palates and what is popular with Iranians. Most of the native Canadians who have visited tend to favour the sweeter dishes, like a delicious-sounding pomegranate stew.

We decide to start with the hummus platter ($5.99) and the zeitoon parvardeh ($3.49). And we decide to get a kebab and a stew: the koobideh kebab ($9.99) and the ghormeh sabzi ($9.99). The former reflects Iranian restaurant culture more, and the latter is a stew that is closely associated with home cooking, and is considered by many to be the country's national dish. Both use halal meats.

The hummus is fantastic: it's incredibly thick and nutty, with a punch of garlic and a peppery bite, and is served with barbari bread, a chewy Iranian flatbread. The thin crust is slightly crisp, almost tough, and the interior is slightly airy and soft, very toothsome. It's a nice change from pita, and goes wonderfully with the thick hummus.

The zeitoon parvardeh is a unique dish in Halifax, a great discovery. Sliced green olives are coated in a garlicky paste of pomegranate and crushed walnut. It hits so many delightful notes: sweet and sour, salty and nutty. It's great on its own, and as an accompanying condiment.

Our table is full from top to tail once our entrees are delivered. A heaping place of aromatic basmati rice is placed alongside a big bowl of the ghormeh sabzi. The muddy, brown stew is thick with sauteed greens, red kidney beans, tender chunks of lamb and onion. The stew is slightly sour, very savoury and rich with herbs. I wish for it to hit a harder citrus note, but the mild tanginess and full-bodied flavour from the beans is very nice.

The koobideh kebabs are two long, skinny skewers made up of minced beef and lamb. The texture is a little on the rubbery side, but the taste is good: salty with just the slightest hint of tartness. A fat roasted tomato sits on the side, along with another huge pile of rice.

Our server is incredibly friendly, checking in on us throughout the meal to make sure we're happy. At the end of the meal, as he takes away the dishes, we talk about Iran's history, language and provinces. It's a fascinating discussion, and his enthusiasm and sincere interest in sharing the history and culture of Iran is infectious.

If you're curious about Iranian food and culture, Pars is a welcoming, unintimidating way to familiarize yourself with some tastes of Tehran. The food is simple, approachable and, most importantly, really good.

Pars Restaurant 3559 Robie Street 431-7277, Tue-Thu noon-10pm Fri-Sat noon-11pm Sun noon-9:30pm