Several years ago we had a few Persian restaurants and, in the more recent past, the occasional Somali restaurant. With the temporary closing (several months now) of Kabob Palace, and the permanent closing of Sa'aadal Kheyr, we lost our only sources of Persian and Somali food. Recently, though, I found a new source for each of those cuisines -- limited in both cases and definitely not run-of-the-mill.

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This article was published 18/12/2014 (2272 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Opinion

Several years ago we had a few Persian restaurants and, in the more recent past, the occasional Somali restaurant. With the temporary closing (several months now) of Kabob Palace, and the permanent closing of Sa'aadal Kheyr, we lost our only sources of Persian and Somali food. Recently, though, I found a new source for each of those cuisines -- limited in both cases and definitely not run-of-the-mill.

It seems almost axiomatic that the more difficult the communication, the better the chances of good food; at least that's how it was in today's two subjects. Ordering may be difficult, but what George's and Palm Tree have in common is the smiling welcome and warmth of the owners who, despite the difficulties in communication -- or possibly because of it -- are exceptionally eager to please those who show an interest in their cuisines.

Chicken kabob, kabob koubbideh and barg at George's Inn and Submarine.

BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Chicken kabob, kabob koubbideh and barg at George's Inn and Submarine.

Today's source of Persian food is a surprising one. Certainly a name like George's Inn & Submarine offers no clues, and, in fact, they still turn out good burgers, thick subs and fresh-cut fries. But they weren't the reason I'd sought out this little place, and the only clue to that reason is one small sign in the window with what I assume is Iranian script.

The relatively new owners (as of seven months ago) speak very little English, but in this case, ordering is easy, since there are only three Persian dishes. And, fortunately, those three are absolutely delicious. They are listed on the wall-board menu, all of them kabobs, but served off the skewers (from $6.89 to $14.89, combos from $13.89 to $23.89). Chicken of course, we all understand, and I happened to know that koubbideh meant ground beef. But what, I wondered, was barg? Fortunately a bilingual Iranian customer was there to tell me that barg meant small pieces of beef.

All the meats had been marinated, were redolent of lemon juice, hints of onion, possibly garlic and sumac, and bursting with exquisite flavours. They come with a platter of saffron-streaked basmati rice, with a roasted tomato on the side, the use of which the owner demonstrated for us -- slipping the skin off, spooning it onto the rice, adding a pat of butter, sprinkling it with salt, pepper and sumac (from the table shaker), and mixing it all up. And yes, the rice was as wonderful as the kabobs. A nice little touch was the complimentary little saucer of pimento-stuffed olives and chunks of raw onions, and the delicious Persian tea was a perfect finish.

It's a simple place, with moulded, bolted-to-the-floor plastic booths, but bright, spotless and cheerful, with big pots of geraniums lining the window sills, and one entire wall adorned with a rendition of sidewalk cafes. Yes, communication can be a problem, but there are only the three Persian specialties and all of them are musts. So do as I did, and order all three. You'll be as delighted as I was, and wish, as I did, that there were more Persian dishes to sample.

 

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Chef Samira Abdi cooked up a platter of Somali specialties at Palm Tree.

BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Chef Samira Abdi cooked up a platter of Somali specialties at Palm Tree.

The walls are lemon yellow and when they're at full power the lights are very bright, but the colourful tablecloths and placemats add cheerful notes in the Palm Tree. Since there are more choices than at George's the ordering may pose more problems, but most of the results are also delicious.

Before we'd even chosen anything, steaming bowls of soup turned up -- a flavourful broth that tasted of beef and bean liquid (with an underlying nip). A Somali custom, apparently, and a lovely one, since it staved off hunger while we tried to decipher the menu. It wasn't easy. Some items are listed under Breakfast (including a Somali omelette, chicken or beef burgers and oatmeal), and some under Lunch and Dinner (with entrées from $6.99 to $13.99). Some items aren't listed at all -- the crisp sambusas, for instance, filled with slightly spicy beef and potato.

There were no helpful descriptions, so I resorted to my customary plea in such situations -- could we have a little of everything? Well, of course we didn't get everything, but we did get a decent variety, starting with a huge platter of delicious basmati rice pilaf, accompanied by another platter with small portions of a number of items. Most were good, two were outstanding, and whatever else you may have here, don't miss the kalaankal dry (i.e. sauceless) beef stew -- cubes of beef with onions and peppers -- and the chicken stew of cubed white meat chicken, also with onions and peppers, but with a different flavour and slightly saucier. The seasoning in both was subtle, but both were so beautifully flavoured we actually asked for more. In fact, the spicing in everything we tried was relatively mild -- milder, possibly, than it might be for the Somali clientele

Also on the platter were a roasted chicken leg -- juicy and tender, with a pale orange glaze on the skin -- a slice of grilled kingfish (slightly dry, with no notable seasoning, but decent); and chunks of goat on the bone. Before we'd ordered the goat, our server kept mentioning the bones, but I didn't get the hint -- these were huge and unwieldy, with cartilage attached. The meat was delicately flavoured, though, and if I had it to do over, I'd take the hint and order the goat boneless, in a stew.

Also included were big, floppy chapatis (unleavened flatbread) and a tasty relish of sautéed onions with beans, raisins and a few chunks of potato.

We finished with Somali chai, spiced with (among other things) hints of cardamom. It was wonderful but a tad too sweet, and it's probably a good idea to add the sugar yourself.

 

marion.warhaft@freepress.mb.ca