Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

BiBi's gets C for less-than-princely Persian fare

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The interior is stylishly spare -- a few spots of colour would go a long way to brighten the muted tones of beige and black, especially in the dark rear of the long, narrow room.

A jarring note is the massive TV set mounted on one well -- silent, mercifully, on my visits, but out of place, especially since there is an adjoining lounge where one could watch whatever game was on. On the other hand the music was lovely and not too loud.

The menu is the usual roster of burgers, sandwiches, pitas and pastas, as well as breaded veal cutlets, steak and a few Greek specialties. Also -- and it's what distinguishes BiBi's from other restaurants -- there's a small selection of Persian dishes, which are locally rare, and were the main reason for my visit. Unfortunately they were the least successful of the dishes I sampled.

Two delicious exceptions came at the beginning of the meal, and at the end. The Reshteh soup, for instance -- red kidney beans, chickpeas, lentils and skinny noodles -- was as thick as a stew and without any spices or herbs that seemed distinctly Persian, but still wonderfully satisfying. The other was the slightly saffrony Persian ice cream, yielding little nuggets of pistachio and a heady whiff of rosewater, which enchanted us before we'd even had a spoonful.

But the other Persian dishes I tried were all disappointing. Mirzah Ghasemi -- a mashed eggplant and tomato appetizer -- was stodgy, overwhelmed by what tasted like tomato concentrate, and at $8.99 seemed a big price for such a little potful. There are only three Persian entrees, one of marinated chicken (unsampled) and two that are skewers of beef, both very mildly seasoned. Koobideh ground beef patties were fairly tasty, but dry (two skewers for $15.99), and Bar -- a single skewer of sliced beef tenderloin -- was inedibly chewy ($17.99).

The presentation of both entrees was odd and perfunctory. The meats sat on a pita which sat on a bed of plain, unseasoned basmati rice, which -- without a drop of any kind of sauce -- made for a lot of dryness. The only juice on the plate came from grilled tomatoes, only parts of which were ripe.

I tried most of the Persian dishes on one visit, the others on another night, and have no way of knowing whether they were prepared by the same cook. Nevertheless, more effort seems to have gone into the non-Persian dishes. Not all of them, though, and especially not our appetizers.

There weren't many mussels for $13.99 and they were a mixed bag -- some about the size of a pinky nail; others closer to normal, and none what I'd call plump. Moreover, the small serving included several that hadn't opened and an otherwise pleasant creamy sauce was overdosed with salt. The calamari were tender and plentiful, but under-seasoned, with a floury-tasting surface ($11.99), and the spanakopita's spinach filling was dense and dry ($10.99).

Unlike the Persian entrees, the other prices included a choice of soup or salad, and on the whole were far more successful. Greek-style ribs were tender, moist and flavourful ($20.99 half rack, $27.99 full rack). Moussaka had plenty of meat in the savoury filling, and a hint of nutmeg in the bechamel topping ($19.99).

I also liked the simply sautéed pickerel ($22.99), but the chicken souvlaki was juiceless, with a slightly flannelly texture and not a lot of flavour ($21.99).

There were no lamb chops available that night, and a half rack of lamb (not on the menu) was suggested at $2 more than the chops' tab of $26.99, but turned up on the bill at $3 more. That said, the four-chop rack was delicious, and precisely as rare as ordered.

Both the Greek-style lemony potatoes and ultra-skinny fries were good, and the mini-loaf of bread was sinfully addictive. Veggies on both dinners were steamed -- healthy but unadorned cauliflower, broccoli and very tiny green beans. However, our la carte traditional Greek salad was a disgrace -- mostly tomatoes that were ripe but flavourless, with barely any taste of dressing, and the skimpiest amount of feta I can remember ($11.99 a full order, $6.99 for half).

Best bets for dessert are the Persian ice cream, and the wonderful Greek baklava. There's also Persian baklava of nuts crushed almost into a paste between layers of phyllo, which was also good but so rich it was hard to manage more than a bite or two. Two other Persian desserts come as a combo: Zoolbia, i.e. little syrup-soaked ovals of dough that were, well, doughy, and the much nicer Bania, swirls of deep fried dough glazed in syrup, almost identical to Indian jalebi ($5.99 each dessert).

Wines are limited but moderately priced. Service was attentive and enthusiastic on one visit, inept and neglectful on another. On that visit our server knew little about the food, and badly needed some basic -- really basic -- training. Lesson No. 1 would be: don't simply plop down a pile of plates and utensils, leaving them for the diners to pass around.

marion.warhaft@freepress.mb.ca

To see the location of this restaurant and others reviewed in the Free Press, please see the map below or click here.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 24, 2012 D6

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Updated on Friday, February 24, 2012 at 9:51 AM CST: adds map, updates with better photo

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