By David Minsky
By Nicole Danna
By Sara Ventiera
By Candace West
By Emily Dabau
By Doug Fairall
By Candace West
By Laine Doss
I grew up with a good friend, Frank, whose family was from Iran. We were inseparable. Whenever we had time off from school I´d spend entire days at his house listening to Cobain and Hendrix, playing Nintendo, and eating the incredible Persian food his mother prepared. When you´re young just about any food your own mother doesn´t cook for you is alien, but I remember waiting for his mom to serve me a plate of fesenjon -- hearty, stewed chicken coated in a bittersweet pomegranate-walnut sauce -- like she was about to hand me a 5-gallon bucket of chocolate. It´s been 13 years since I had a home-cooked meal at Frank´s house, but I´ve still got the taste of his momma´s fesenjon pounded into my food memory banks like it was coded in my DNA. God forbid that someday I´m 80 and sitting in a Boca nursing home gumming puréed vegetables between sponge baths, but if that day comes I can assure you that even then I´ll stillbe craving that dish. So when I saw that two Persian restaurants had opened in Broward County within months of each other, I thought, ¨I really need to call Frank.¨ Then, immediately: ¨I wonder if either of them serves fesenjon?¨
And why not now for the Persian revolution? The fare is just waiting to be rediscovered by the casual and the haute, the healthy and the, well... not so healthy. Iranian dishes swell with big, bright, simple flavors -- saffron, turmeric, garlic, onion, lemon, black pepper -- and are familiar enough -- kebabs, stews, flatbreads, heaps and heaps o´ rice -- to make any xenophobe feel at ease.
I started my Persian revival a couple of weekends ago at Darius Palace, a six-month-old restaurant south of Oakland Park Boulevard on Federal Highway. Just walking into the place you know a lot of work went into its design. Carvings of Persian warriors look down upon a sleek granite bar with shiny trim, and in the corner a piano player belts out tunes like ¨Rhapsody in Blue¨ and ¨As Time Goes By.¨ Between piano sets, a belly dancer flutters out to shake her hips around the dance floor. Above, ivory-colored pillars leap toward mahogany rafters, framing the gorgeous second-floor landing that overlooks the dining room. It´s a beautiful setup but here comes the caveat: at 8:30 on a Friday night, the landing´s veiled tables -- as romantic a spot as I´ve seen in a Lauderdale restaurant -- were closed off due to lack of customers. It´s a shame. I could see a whole lot of successful first dates taking place up there.
5879 N. University Drive
Tamarac, FL 33321
2960 N. Federal Hwy., Fort Lauderdale. Open for lunch and dinner Tuesday through Thursday 5 till 10 p.m.; Friday 5 till 11 p.m.; Saturday noon till 11 p.m.; Sunday noon till 9 p.m. Wheelchair accessible. Call 954-563-6664.
Kuluck Persian Restaurant & Lounge
5879 N. University Dr., Tamarac. Open for lunch and dinner Tuesday through Thursday 11:30 a.m. till 9:30 p.m.; Friday 11:30 a.m. till midnight; Saturday 4:30 p.m. till 2 a.m.; Sunday 4:30 till 9 p.m. Wheelchair accessible. Call 954-720-6980.
A meal at Darius begins convincingly, with fresh-baked flatbread called lavash and a traditional plate of herbs, cheese, and aromatics to wedge between the bread´s cellular layers. It was a nice start -- the mint and parsley exceedingly fresh and peppery, the cheese, a Persian equivalent of feta, creamier and less salty than the Greek stuff -- but the borani ($4.99) and baba ghanush ($5.99) allowed us a little more room to work with the lavash. Both were tasty, but the borani -- a spinach and yogurt dip that tasted like a mixture of Greek tzatzikiand alouette cheese -- was a little rich, and the baba ghanush, though perfect in consistency, was overly bitter.
Then there´s the rice. Rice, as it is in many other cultures, is an all-important part of Persian cooking, so much so that each delineation of the stuff has its own name. Chelow is parboiled, then steamed, and sits in massive yellow and white piles next to skewered kebabs; tadig is the rice at the bottom of the chelow pot that crisps and hardens, and, oh boy, is that ever good with an unctuous stew poured on top; and polo is a steamed pilaf that´s been jeweled with beans or berries and an assortment of herbs. There are Atkins dieters who would fall into hyperglycemic shock just looking at all this starch, but I´m game. With our chelow: a bone-in Cornish hen kebab ($19.99), shish kebab of beef tenderloin ($17.99), and lamb kebab ($18.99). We also managed a plate of tadig, accompanied by -- wait for it now -- fesenjon ($18.99 entrée, $5.99 appetizer).
The hen was disappointing. Cooking chicken with bones intact usually produces a juicier, more flavorful piece of meat. That wasn´t the case here. The traditional marinade of onion, saffron, garlic, and black pepper was bold enough, but the pieces were overcooked without exhibiting any sort of satisfying caramelization on the surface. Just flappy skin wrapped around dry, lifeless pieces of meat.
The shish kebab came with fresh summer squash, peppers, and onions skewered on a spear of rosemary -- perfectly cooked, toothy in texture, and filled with herby fragrance. Everyone wanted seconds.
And then there was the fesenjon. It hit me hard -- like a salty kiss from a lost lover, and just as sweet. The pomegranate juice had reduced and thickened with the walnuts to produce a layered wave of citrus and berries, followed by a rich, meaty bite from the chicken. It was by far the best dish I had eaten at the restaurant, and I was disappointed that my friends thought so too, because within minutes it was gone.