Axis of Yummy
Persian Food Comes to Belltown
2719 First Ave, 441-5489
Tues-Sat 5-10 pm
I usually hate trendcasting, but if you asked me which cuisine would make a big splash in the next five years, I'd predict Persian food. It's got that nice fruity, sweet and sour palate that we Americans like so much. Besides, the time is right--rarely do I open a Sunday New York Times without some cultural reporting on Persian culture in the States or Iran; even the graphic novel Persepolis was a hit. Faster than you can say kookoo sabzi (a kind of herbed omelet), I think Iranian food is going to be big.
I've been a fan for a long time: I used to live in Los Angeles, which is the heart of expatriated Iranians in the western world. When I could afford it I would eat at Persian restaurants, where there is a rice dish for every mood: upbeat saffron rice, flirty pink cherry rice, and slightly brooding herbed rice. My Persian meals in Seattle, however, have been few and far between, and I was incredibly happy to hear that the Belltown location of Cherry Street Coffeehouse was expanding its menu to include Persian dinner specials.
My friends Jodi, Mike, and 13-year-old Taylor joined Andrew and me there the other night. The place still feels a little coffee shop-y, but with nice touches like punched metal screens, a gurgling rock fountain, and an atmospheric aqua and gilt wall. Our waitress was unfamiliar with the spanking new beer and wine menu, but what she lacked in beverage knowledge, she made up for--vastly--in thoughtfulness. Taylor wanted a Sprite, which they didn't stock. "I can run across the street and get you one…" she promised, and before we knew it, she was back from the convenience store, green bottle in hand.
We asked her if, in addition to the menu, we might score a bit of the golden crusty rice known as ta dig that Jodi, Mike, and I had all gone bananas for in the past. Although our server thought the kitchen might deliver, a few minutes later, her gregarious boss, Cherry Street's owner Ali Ghambari, came out to tell us we were out of luck. "We don't have the burner for it right now," he told us. We were sad, but he gave us a great description of how to make it: It involves stacking the rice in a pyramid and digging a vent hole through the rice so that steam can get out and the rice can crisp up. Next time, we're calling ahead and pleading.
So we tucked into our non-crusty rice dishes and all of their attendant stews. Khoreshe fesenjan ($12.95) is a favorite of mine, made with tangy-sweet pomegranate molasses and thickened with ground walnuts. At Cherry Street, it's made with chicken and it was very thick and satisfying (made with duck, it's a near-miracle), hitting a lot of the same notes as a good Oaxacan mole. Iranians are very good garnishers. Our beef and lentil stew ($12.95), for example, came ungilded, but topped with crispy fried onion and matchstick potatoes that would be the perfect French fries for Barbie. The stew had a curious but not unpleasant pungency that made Mike and me cock our heads and try to figure out what flavor was at work--it turned out to be turmeric. Another chicken dish ($12.95) came piled high on a bed of rice and sprinkled with pistachios and dried red barberries, as tart as cranberries, but tinier. The cinnamon-braised lamb shank ($12.95) was a little subdued for my taste, but the dilled rice had a dark green complexity that I've only encountered in Persian food. Although vegetarian Jodi didn't complain, the vegetarian pilaf ($12.95) with lentils and onions was less fun than the meat dishes--likable, but more of a side dish than a stand-alone entrée.
As we left the restaurant, we heard a booming voice from on high, calling to us in a familiar accent. "How was your meal?" We looked up, and there was Ghambari, waving from a balcony on the building next door. Slightly stunned, we waved and gave him a thumbs up.
Together with Ghambari's garrulous good nature, the brief Persian menu is a promising start for dinners at Cherry Street. I'd love to see more Persian details to round out the meal like the flatbread served with butter and raw onion or the rosewater and saffron scented desserts that I dug so much in L.A. Oh and did I forget to mention, next time, I hope to get some crusty rice?