Moments after arriving in Saeed Pourkay's East Harlem home kitchen, we're gathered around his sink, watching as he deftly carves a long slit down the belly of a glistening striped bass. Those fish eggs—destined for a surprise, unconventional role in the traditional Nowruz (Persian New Year) meal we're about to witness.
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Rare are the times that a rice dish, even one as large as this, is worth $18. When that rice stretches out raisins, orange peel, saffron, and scallions into something so much more than the some of its parts, it qualifies.
In many ways, Cafe Nadery a gathering place inspired by and built around the Iranian heritage of the 21 people who own it. The café is a venue for readings, live music, film screenings, art exhibits, lectures, and fora. It just so happens they serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
In the past couple months I kept hearing whispers from Middle Eastern food devotees about Saeed Pourkay's Persian cooking lodged in the corner of a Flatiron pizzeria. Then he received some glowing press. So here's hoping Taste of Persia NYC becomes the city's ambassador to homestyle Persian cuisine, a vacant position we'd do well to fill. The food certainly merits the title.
We visited Balaboosta's Einat Admony to learn how to make gondi, a Persian chicken and chickpea dumpling, which she'll be serving at a special Passover Seder. The dish is an unforgettably delicious and totally comforting alternative to Ashkenazi matzo ball soup.
[Photograph: Maggie Hoffman] Note: Serve these as an alternative to matzo balls for your Passover Seder. At Balaboosta, Einat plans to cook the gondi in one broth, but serve them in a fresh batch, so the finished broth isn't cloudy....
Pars tends to play it safe. There's an in-house belly dancer named Valeri, according to the website, but she only comes out on Saturdays. The menu offers a strong selection of proteins, but mostly in the form of kebabs. Some boldness appears in the decor, via white-washed walls adorned with sparkly vests and caps, lamps bedecked in intricate beadwork, and a long bench covered in woven cloth. Perhaps keeping it mild is a political strategy as much as a culinary one here.
It's hard to convince anyone to go to the Upper East Side for a meal; the argument has to be compelling, as there's probably not much food there that you can't get elsewhere at an equivalent or better level. It happens, however, that the Upper East Side is home to some of the best Persian restaurants in Manhattan. On a Saturday night when we fancied a taste of Iran, we trekked across town to Persepolis on Second Avenue, and we were glad we did.
Rose water is as likely to be found in Grandma's perfume as in our food. It's an old-fashioned flavor, looking backward rather than forward. But there's something about its ancient caché when treated right, there's nothing like it. Rose water's best uses are also its oldest: pastries, creamy desserts, spicing for nuts, and accents on braised dishes.
I was excited to find that out in the East 70s is a small hotspot of Persian cuisine. A little calculated digging led me to Persepolis, one of the most popular of the Persian restaurants in the area, which also offers a decent vegetarian selection. Persian cuisine may not be that easy to come by, but as a huge fan of Middle Eastern food I had a very good feeling about it.
Pomegranates are expensive. Their nectar stains like beet juice. And if you're successfully able to crack one open and extricate the seeds without having them burst all over your shirt, you still run the risk of your fruit having gone off, as checking for over-ripeness is rather difficult. So even during pomegranate season I like to have anardana—dried pomegranate seeds—around.