It’s easy to take the diversity of our food culture for granted. Here in Metro Vancouver we’re born into Bolognese sauce, weaned on wild salmon sashimi, comfortable with coq au vin, kung pao, vindaloo and tajine. Name any country in the world, and chances are you’ll find its food somewhere in this city. Sometimes we get carried away with our diversity. Recently I was surprised to see Hungarian dancers perform at a Japanese izakaya in Crosstown – a restaurant that serves poutine with teriyaki gravy and nori flakes, I might add. But that’s a story for another time. One cuisine that isn’t showy or overwhelming, doesn’t swagger or knock you down with extreme flavours, is Persian. Thanks to a considerable Iranian community here on the North Shore, we have plenty of it. There are Iranian grocery stores, kebab joints, dried fruit and nut stores and plenty of restaurants. Now there’s a new one to add to the mix: Zeitoon Persian Cuisine in Central Lonsdale.
Last week I strolled across the road with my co-worker Shorty to check it out. On the way, I explained to her why I think it’s a great lunchtime pick. The food is not unlike Greek food, I said, with kebabs and fresh salads, but without the overpowering addition of extra garlic that gets you quarantined for the next two days. We took a table on the patio and just as I finished my discourse, the server arrived with a bowl of flatbread and half a raw onion, wrapped in plastic wrap. Right. There is that. Many culinary historians believe the onion first originated in the IranPakistan region, and it continues to play an important role in the cuisine. On the table, raw onion is used to “cleanse the palate” before and between courses, and it’s also thought to aid in digestion. I guess that’s one way to do it – there’s not much chance of any lingering doughnut or coffee breath when you flame your palate with a few crunchy mouthfuls of raw onion. We opted to eat the bread plain.
The menu is small and well-focused on traditional dishes like barley soup and eggplant dip or hummus to start; bright, fresh salads full of tomatoes and cucumber; and of course, kabobs: skewers of marinated and roasted meat, served with clouds of fluffy basmati rice and a flamed tomato. Shirazi salad tasted of summer; a bright mosaic of small diced tomatoes, onions, cucumbers, and chopped parsley in a crisp, citrusy dressing. Greek salad was similar, though it got extra bite courtesy of salty feta and olives. Unable to settle on one cut of meat, Shorty and I opted to share a Royal Kabob, with a skewer of juicy chicken and another of beef loin.
The chicken kabob was tone-perfect, with just the right blend of spices in the marinade and roasted until it was as succulent as a peach. The beef was less so – still tender, but not as impressively juicy as its partner. The combination platter was the priciest on the menu at $19.95 – we could have opted for any of the others at around $13, and they would still have provided plenty of food to share.
Though Persian saffron rosewater ice cream was almost too tempting to resist, we had work (rather than an afternoon nap) to head back to, so we skipped it. Lucky for me, Zeitoon is close by, so there’s always next time. Our total bill was $31.19, including HST.