Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

The road to Persia runs through St. Adolphe

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At one time the city was blessed with a few Persian restaurants. These days if you want Persian food, you'll have to drive to St. Adolphe, to Darakeh which, I'm willing to guess, is the only Persian restaurant in the province.

It barely qualifies as out of town -- the distance is only about 24 kilometres, an easy and pleasant drive straight south on St. Mary's Road all the way, with occasional views of the river.

I Googled the name and learned that Darakeh is a village/mountain and/or area north of Tehran, noted for its beautiful hiking trails. I also found some photographs, one of which left me green with envy -- an idyllic-looking outdoor restaurant, part of it with spreads of gorgeous Persian rugs, with piles of watermelons at the side, the kind of setting we can only dream of in these parts.

There are no intimations of Iran in the house where Darakeh dwells -- certainly not in the simple, almost chalet-like decor of honey-coloured and white wood panelling with bottle-green trim. Nevertheless, it's a tidy and warm little place; in any case, the food is Persian, and it's the food you've come for. And if you're as confused as I was about when to say Iranian, and when Persian, the food is Persian, and Iran is the country it comes from -- at least that's how it was explained to us by our charming, and incredibly accommodating waiter.

The selection of Persian specialties is very limited, and at present certain dishes are available on certain days only. However a new menu should be available soon, offering all the options, every day. In the meantime most of what I could order from the old menu turned out to be delicious. Reasonable too, with items priced from $6.99 to $13.99.

Nothing is listed as an appetizer, but the mashed eggplant could serve as either starter or side, an almost creamy mixture that contains as much onion as eggplant, seasoned with garlic and dried mint, topped by bits of bacon and crisply fried onions and drizzled with wee wisps of whey from the house-made yogurt. The result is rich, slightly sweet, and good enough to survive being spread on the ordinary packaged bread-type toast, which (since Persian lavash bread wasn't available) was better than nothing. However, something like pita would be better still.

Soup would also be a good starter -- a great one, actually, if the soup of your jour turns out to be as satisfying as our richly flavoured chicken soup, with tender noodles, veggies and a hint of lemon juice. Another possibility is the Persian shirazi salad of diced tomatoes, cucumbers and onions, simply dressed with lemon juice, refreshing on its own, and even more interesting when combined with the thin house-made yogurt that is flecked with minced shallots. Another version of yogurt was seemingly thicker and mixed with shreds of cucumbers, bits of walnuts and raisins.

At present the always-available main courses are kabobs, which aren't served on skewers. Outstanding among them, chunks of marinated chicken that were moist, tender and marvellously flavourful. Also delicious, the juicy kobideh kabobs of ground beef mixed with onions and sparked by the lemony, slightly astringent flavour of sumac, the powdered berries of the sumac bush which (along with mint, parsley, garlic and saffron) enlivens many of the dishes -- in fact, a jar of this pretty, deep-red spice is brought automatically to the table to sprinkle on the food. Less successful than the above was the chenjeh kabob of marinated beef cubes, which were tough and dry.

Each entrée came with a heaping portion of Persian-style basmati rice -- buttery, slightly saffron-flavoured and absolutely marvellous. The chicken was also garnished with grilled under-ripe tomatoes that lacked much flavour. Alternately the kebabs can be ordered wrapped in tortillas and partnered with fries and salad or cole slaw.

Other possible daily main courses on the new menu include lamb shank, koofteh meat and rice balls, gaymeh -- a tomato-flavoured stew of ground beef with chickpeas -- and falafel. There are as well sandwiches, burgers, pizzas and such other Canadiana as chicken quesadillas, chicken fingers, wings and a few spaghettis. A few Canadian breakfasts, too.

There was only one dessert on the day of my visit but it was a luscious and perfect end to the meal -- saffron ice cream, scented with rosewater and dotted by pistachios.

Service was solicitous, obliging and attentive, but there were few others present during my visit, and I can't predict how it might be with a full house.

marion.warhaft@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 29, 2010 D3

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