An antique Persian double bed, or takht, sits in the front window of Pomegranate. A sheepskin is casually thrown on a handmade embroidered spread and the head board is upholstered in carpet like material. Here you can recline with a glass of wine and an appetizer while waiting for a table. Or you can have an entire meal, Persian style, lounging on the bed in any way that you are comfortable. A ceramic tile tub, filled with circulating water and goldfish shares the area. There is a larger, more p
rivate takht in the rear, by reservation only.
Eating while lounging in bed is an intriguing thought but no, I am not in a playful mood tonight. Dining tables, covered in a traditional cloth have appeal enough.
Tea called Chai is served in a glass on a brass tray with a square of sugar in a tiny holder. Brewed in a samovar, it tastes like Earl Gray with a hint of cardamom.
The only obstacle we have to get past is that we have no idea if we're going to like this food or not. That's the adventure of taking a culinary trip to a foreign land. Of the three appetizers we've chosen, vegetarian caviar made of green olives marinated in pomegranate/walnut sauce and garlic and ground into a coarse dip is a flavor-fest of all its ingredients, and we love it. Charred eggplant, mashed with a mildly spicy tomato sauce has a distinct, naturally smoky flavor. But the Dolmas, marinated grapevine leaves stuffed with lemony rice that has turned to mush, are disappointing, authentic though they may be.
Although ancient Persia, land of fabled Kings and Princes became known as Iran in 1935, it was decreed in 1949 that both names would be allowed. The culinary traditions of Persia live on and the cuisine reflects the history of Persia with Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, Turkish and Indian aspects. Cultural artifacts, like Persian decorative rugs, prints of ancient warriors on horseback, and a variety of vases are unusual and interesting, and the concrete floor is covered with Persian rugs. You will not lack for conversation pieces in this room.
Danielle Schrage runs the front of the house, while husband Alireza Fashrashrafi prepares the foods he knows, learned in his mother's kitchen in Tehran.
Basmati rice is the staple, rinsed of its starches, then cooked with saffron and studded with lentils, dates, sultanas, and barberries, a kind of small red currant. Each mouthful offers surprising flavor nuances. To our standards, adas polo is an enormous amount of rice and it fills a dinner plate. At the side is a green salad, a chopped salad of tomato purple onion and cucumber and a big dollop of thick yogurt sprinkled with dried mint. Marasa polo is another version of saffron basmati rice, bejeweled with Seville orange peel, almond, pistachio, carrots and barberries, topped with a huge braised lamb shank. Clearly, Chef Alireza knows how to cook lamb to bring out it's best texture and flavor, and the fruity, savory rice makes this a truly delicious dish. Salads and yogurt fill the plate. Too much food for me, and I'm happy to cut the meat, which simply falls from the bone, and share it with my pal. Though the flavors are intense and pleasing, neither of us can finish our dinner..
Danielle tempts us with more tea and Persian dessert.
A brass tray of traditional honey soaked, deep fried pastry, and a molded, frozen, cream cake made of sweet condensed milk, orchid root flour, chunks of pure cream and an assortment of fruits, nuts and rosewater comes in big family size. One spoonful speaks loud and clear, but I don't understand what it's saying. Authenticity does not mean delectability.
Though the music is traditional and adds to the exotic mood, the name remains a mystery. Nowhere in this restaurant, neither as décor or as garnish on a plate of food is there a pomegranate seed.
Pomegranate Chai House
420 College St.
Tel: 416 921 7557
Appetizers $2.95 - $6.50 Mains: $9.95 - $14.95
This article appeared in the Toronto Sun.