Restaurant Review: Particularly Persian
Pars, in the 8th District, keeps regulars coming and novices wondering where Persian food has been all their lives
For insiders, Pars is old news. It’s long been the go-to place for Persian expats. When he began working at his parents’ small establishment in the upper Lerchenfelderstraße in 1998, owner Shahram Marandi says it was already established as the spot where Iranian students went to hang out.
What started as a Persian snack joint with a limited menu of three dishes and maximum capacity of 24 now seats 130 and includes a catering service. "But we can’t get any larger," Marandi explained, "or the quality of the food would suffer."
Where so many western restaurants engineer atmosphere by dimming their lights, gleaming dubiously in counterfeit pastels, Pars offers deep tones lit brightly enough for you to admire the food before you.
Wall tiles with floral, cabbage-like patterns in mustard, sky-blue, indigo, sit at reassuring eye level. The requisite oriental rugs, shallower in hue and crew-cut to accommodate the discrete, energetic waiters scurrying over them, their ties impeccably tucked into body-hugging white shirts.
"Pars" – named for the region now called Iran – offers a magnificent encounter with Persian cuisine, which offers a range of tastes that hasn’t quite managed to penetrate the West.
Perhaps it’s political prejudice, or simply that Euro-Persians have the pride – and good taste – to keep those redolences to themselves.
"Many Austrian guests come here not knowing what to expect, curious about what they’ll find." Marandi sees this as an opportunity to introduce them to a different type of "oriental" dining.
Spoiled, Persian style
Probably the most felicitous facet of Persian table culture is the plate of herbs placed at the centre of your table, with a stoic radish and onion at their side for good measure.
These are meant to be plucked up and nibbled in a kind of micro-grazing between swallows of the heavier fare. At Pars, I only slightly regretted the prevalence of parsley – invasive, as it were, against the accents of tarragon and mint.
Where so many cuisines allow an incisive flavour only with the antipasti, at Pars these are gentler than you’d expect, perhaps because the main courses are no less forthright.
Stuffed grape leaves, Dolme (€3.80) have a nuttier, sweeter, less astringent aftertaste than in Greek restaurants, and Ezme (€3.80), that well-known diced salad, is less peppery, less oniony than in most Turkish joints. Sui generis here is the homemade yogurt, a mellow off-white with delicate nubs and a docile, subtle edge to its flavor. It can be ordered with spinach or wild garlic (€3.80). The lawasch bread (€1.50), like thick, dusty parchment, has more character than the leavened sort also offered.
Soups range from a soothing lentil (€3.90) to a chewy spinach (€4.50) with noodle-like fried onions, mint oil, and runny sheep molke (whey) on top. Lunch specials are refreshing and considerately priced (between €8 and €9).
My favourite was Baghalipolo, with plums, tomatoes, strips of pepper and one carrot accompanying a chicken thigh/leg permeated not only with their flavours but with their ravishing textures – nothing starchy, sinewy or gelatinous – without recourse to undue seasoning.
When vegetables, meat and fruit are in such perfect balance, you could say it’s like lions lying down with lambs, although that metaphor might hold better for the Kabab Machsus, where lamb, chicken and ground meat had thoughtfully been already slipped off their skewers.
Rice here is concocted in careful orchestrations of flavours and textures. With the kebabs, there was a sort of Persian pesto (parsley, coriander, perhaps spinach) mixed in, but also pieces of white beans creamy as little artichoke hearts, a truly inspired conflation of carbohydrates. Lubia Polo, for its part, is red rice (saffron, berberis) with succulent shreds of lamb.
Vegetarian dishes here taste of the dynamism usually associated with meat. The Kookoo Esfendaj (€6.90) is a kind of spinach and sheep cheese strudel with a lively, papery outer skin partly made of poppy seeds. Kaschke Bademdjan (€6.50) looks like a mini-pizza, but has mashed eggplant as its base, with bits of olive, herbs, and garlic.
The best accompaniment to such fare might be black tea rather than alcohol. I also loved the dusky, rarefied mulberry juice (€3.60), and the homemade lime juice with mint (€4.50).
Desserts are surprisingly dense, but with fleeting, delicate flavours. And Scholezard is an exotic saffron-almond rice pudding with rosewater, garnished with pistachio and cinnamon, its texture vaguely gelatinous, but just slightly grainy, its hue suggesting perhaps a radioactive sunflower (€3.50).
In short, Pars takes you places. The recipes are not, as Marandi puts it, "Europeanised". They keep it "like my grandmother would cook it."
So for beginners: Persian food is "not as spicy" as Indian and "not as bland" as Turkish fare.
"At some point, every country invaded Iran," Marandi laughed. "The Arabs, the Egyptians, the Mongols…" and so the Persians, apparently, have made the best of it.
8., Lerchenfelderstraße 148
Mon. – Sat. 11:00 – 24:00
(01) 405 82 45