The Year’s Most Exciting Opening
Ottawa has a wealth of Middle Eastern cuisines and Cafe Tehran is a jewel in the crown.
Name + address: Cafe Tehran, 470 Rideau St.
Type of food: Persian
Diet: Meat, few vegetarian options
Wheelchair accessibility: No
LCBO Licensed: No
At Cafe Tehran, you'll feel a little spoiled. Not with an overabundance of choice but by the level of care and experience that goes into the cooking of your food.
We have good Persian restaurants in Ottawa, but none has impressed me more than Cafe Tehran.
Experienced restaurateur Soheila Hosseini opened Cafe Tehran on July 1, and it appears that it didn't take long for word to get out. Already they seem to be doing a brisk lunch trade.
Hosseini grew up in her family's restaurant business in Iran and apart from whatever other talent she brings to the business she certainly knows about hiring kitchen talent. Her chef, Ali Sadeghi brings many years of experience to crafting memorable dining moments but a little more on him later.
Mirza ghasemi. Ralf Joneikies/Ottawa Lookout
Baba ganouj is a middle eastern dip beloved, seemingly, by everyone but me. Take that same roasted eggplant however and give it a Persian twist and you have mirza ghasemi a famous appetizer out of the northern Iranian province of Gilani.
It's mixed with tomatoes, spices, garlic and olive oil and in the north of Iran, topped with a fried egg. You've sometimes heard a certain food being described as a warm hug, well mirza ghasemi is an embrace by your favourite family. It's warm and comforting and when made by chef Sadeghi, one of the best things I've eaten this year.
Shirazi salad. Ralf Joneikies/Ottawa Lookout
On the heels of that emotionally uplifting start came the Shirazi salad and here the simplicity is a key feature because it allows the ingredients to shine. Freshness of produce is essential otherwise this salad of chopped onion, cucumber and tomato would not work at all. It comes dressed in lemon juice and finely chopped mint and is as refreshingly bright a salad as I can remember having. A great palate cleanser.
Yogurt drink. Ralf Joneikies/Ottawa Lookout
Doogh (in other cultures called Aryan) is a savoury, salty and tangy yogurt drink that at Cafe Tehran is topped with chopped mint and rose petals. As with everything at this fine establishment, the yogurt is made on-site. As you drink you'll become aware of stringy curd-like formations that may be startling at first but just go with it. It's delicious and incredibly healthy as it's loaded with probiotics and acts as an effective digestive aid.
Koobideh kebab. Ralf Joneikies/Ottawa Lookout
The main event arrived lovingly presented on a traditional metal platter. I found the aromas intoxicating and I knew just what to expect by smell alone.
The koobideh kebab is advertised as beef but as Soheila told me, does contain ground lamb as well. She went on to describe the care they take in preparation which includes grinding the meats fresh each day.
There are times when you have a meal and you just feel that everything is in harmony because all the individual elements have been treated with respect. When each ingredient is perfectly handled, the whole becomes an intriguing symphony for the senses.
Chef Sadeghi may have plenty of experience but after tasting his food, I understand that he also has a gifted palate. He knows flavours.
He demonstrates a light touch in how he seasons the kebab meat, allowing the meat flavours to take centre stage. Too often I've had kebab that was clumsily seasoned where you felt that the quality of the meat was beside the point.
I also took note of the texture. The meat had been ground supremely well and not overworked in the mixing, creating a blissful and even eating experience. Too often ground meat can end up having a toughness that doesn't need to be there.
Sadeghi also knows a lot about that most universal of staples: rice. Here, employing just salt, water and time he's created a rice pilaf that is masterful in execution. When you have something as simple as fragrant white rice, where you can actually taste the quality of the grain, well that's something to get excited about.
Cafe Tehran is one of the most exciting restaurant openings this year. The love of tradition that Soheila Hosseini demonstrates in what her restaurant offers, comes from the heart. When the food is this good, it can be no other way.
You can read a little about Saffron Kabab on Bank St. here.