While just a few years ago, the only decent restaurants where you could satisfy your craving for good old-fashioned Persian cuisine in Toronto were all located in the stretch between Yonge & Steeles and Yonge & Sheppard – an area affectionately known among Iranians here as Tehranto – restaurants such as The Pomegranate have been changing things up a bit in the ‘Big Smoke’.
Situated on College Street in downtown Toronto on the fringe of Little Italy, The Pomegranate, along with a score of other restaurants and bars such as Paaeezand Awtash, is making eating out – Iranian style – fun again. While I was brought up on traditional Persian food as a child, and still can’t resist my cravings now and then for a hearty serving of Fesenjan or Ghormeh Sabzi, I’ve never really enjoyed eating out at Persian restaurants. Aside from enjoying myself in good company, eating out for me has always been about the overall experience I get from dining at a particular restaurant. True, it’s always a good thing if the food I’m served is mouthwateringly tasty, although other crucial aspects of the dining experience, such as proper lighting, music, decor, friendly service, and overall ambience cannot be neglected.
For better or for worse, the bulk of Iranian restaurants I’ve been to have pandered to the tastes of my polar opposite. To illustrate my predicament, allow me to introduce Hamid (my apologies in advance to Hamids everywhere). Every week, Hamid visits his local Persian restaurant in the hope of stuffing his belly with a steaming hot dish of fresh kebabs (with the extra tomato, of course), along with his wife – weary from holding one too many mehmoonis (lit. ‘gatherings’) – and his two children, who want nothing more than to eat crayons and scream. Yes, the waiters and waitresses at Hamid’s local (let’s call it Hafez or something else disturbingly typical) may have a bit too much roo (attitude); yes, the faded pictures of Shiraz and Esfahan on the walls may not exactly be appetite-inducing, and yes – that isAroosakby Tehrangeles (think Tehranto but in L.A.) has-been Andy blaring distortedly from the boom box in the corner. However, the kebabs are out of this world; and for Hamid, his wife, and his kids, that’s all that matters. We’re here to eat, aren’t we?
Well, sort of – which is why I love restaurants such as The Pomegranate, which not only boast delicious takes on classic Persian dishes, but do so with style and grace. Upon entering the restaurant, I instantly took to the charm of their homy, yet tasteful decor, which gives The Pomegranate the look and feel of a traditional Persian Ghahve Khooneh (lit. ‘Coffee house’). While enjoying the sumptuous Persian goodies before you, you are instantly transported to what seems like a scene from Qajar-era Iran. Surrounded by traditional Persian woodwork, murals depicting scenes from the Shahnameh(Iran’s national epic), and lines of poetry in gorgeous calligraphy on exquisite tile work, The Pomegranate truly provides a feast for the senses, and a taste of the finer aspects of Persian dining.
Run by Alireza Fakhrashrafi and his wife, Danielle Schrage, The Pomegranate offers traditional Persian dishes with a twist. While they may not do kebabs (you’ll have to go next door – literally – totheir other restaurant, Sheherzade, for that), Alireza and Danielle certainly know how to make one hell of a Fesenjan (walnut & pomegranate stew), as well as a host of other specialities such as Khoresht-e Gheymeh (tomato stew with split peas, lamb, and dried lime), Adas Polo (rice with lentils, dates, and sultanas), and a dish which I encountered for the first time there, Aloo Gheysi (a stew of Bokhara plums and dried apricots on rice). As well, they offer an impressive selection of appetisers, which, for a light eater such as myself, can definitely serve as the highlight of any meal. While all the appetisers are nothing short of divine, their Mirza Ghasemi (charred eggplant in garlic and tomato sauce), Kashk-e Bademjan (charred eggplant, whey, garlic, and walnuts topped with fried onions), and ZeytoonParvardeh (Persian for ‘Best. Olives. Ever.’) will keep one salivating for days on end.
Altogether, the food is marvellous, the ambience is wonderfully warm and cozy, and the service couldn’t be better. Although Danielle, who served me that evening, may not be Iranian, her insistence on speaking in Persian and the perpetual smile on her face can give any Iranian waiter a run for their money. Likewise, Alireza is equally sweet, and in addition to his love for Persian cuisine, he also has a passion for Iranian culture and heritage.
Needless to say, I won’t ever subject myself to another minute of Aroosak – at least not as long as Alireza and Danielle are in business. Tehranto,eat your heart out.