1407 Second Avenue, New York NY 10021 (at 74th Street; map); (212) 535-1100; persepolisnyc.com
Kids' Amenities: High chairs, stroller storage
Best Dishes for Kids: yogurts, kebabs, rice pilafs
Cost: Appetizers $6-18, Entrees $16-28, Desserts $6-10
It's hard to convince anyone to go to the Upper East Side for a meal; the argument has to be compelling, as there's probably not much food there that you can't get elsewhere at an equivalent or better level. It happens, however, that the Upper East Side is home to some of the best Persian restaurants in Manhattan. On a Saturday night when we fancied a taste of Iran, we trekked across town to Persepolis on Second Avenue, and we were glad we did.
A visit to Persepolis will not transport you to the Middle East. The restaurant's decor is nondescript, and the table settings are elegant and modern. The attentive waiters are all Latin Americans, and the chef is Thai, which may sound blasphemous to purists. But we were there for the most important thing, the food; I can't judge how traditional or updated Chef San Sethachutkul's creations are, but I can tell you they are delicious. We went to Persepolis expecting hearty Middle Eastern fare, and we found lightness and subtlety beyond a plentiful meal.
Eggplant and yogurt lovers such as myself will be pleased at Persepolis' many appetizer choices. For larger groups, the best way to go is probably to order a sample of the eggplant ($18) and yogurt ($14) so you don't really have to choose.
We started with a Baba ($8) and the Yogurt and Shallots ($6). Baba is a baked eggplant purée with Kashk (a Persian goat cheese), walnuts, and onions. Although it was promptly consumed, the Baba was the least interesting of our dishes, as it could have delivered a bit more flavor. The yogurt was the better of the two appetizers, its tanginess and creaminess balanced by bits of aged shallots; it was also quickly devoured. I suspect, however, that the eggplant and yogurt were mere toppings for the delicious, fresh barbari bread that came with them. We fought over the last few pieces.
For entrees, the three of us shared a kebab platter and a stew dish. We opted for the Caspian mixed grill ($22)—saffron chicken and beef kubideh, with a side of polo shirin (rice pilaf with orange and almonds). The chicken was perfectly moist and flavorful with onions, the saffron imparting imposing color and scent. The ground beef in the kubideh was likewise tender and tasty, and the kebabs the greatest success with our daughter.
I had little doubt the kebabs would be the best dish for her, as tender, flavorful meats are unfailing choices in her repertoire. The stew we ordered, the Khoresht Fesenjan ($17), was more aimed at pleasing her parents—and it did so exceedingly. The walnut-pomegranate stew of chicken might not be the most pleasing-to-look-at dish (maybe a few pomegranate seeds on top for color?) but it is definitely the dish we are going back to Persepolis for. It's slightly tart from the pomegranates, but the walnuts are there to bring it all together; when you think it's a little thick, the pomegranates provide a little sharpness to the dish.
We had polo albalo (sour cherry rice pilaf) alongside the walnut-pomegranate chicken; both that and the orange-almond pilafs were noteworthy in themselves—although they are listed as accompaniments to the entrees, we all thought they stood out on their own, as the fruits and nuts brought just enough extra taste to an already perfumed Basmati rice.
Most desserts at Persepolis are fruit-based, as fitting to end a plentiful meal. Our dessert of lemon sorbet with cherry compote (faludeh, $6) was likewise light and refreshing, if a bit too tart for a toddler's taste (and we could all have done without the chewy noodles, but I guess that's the point of faludeh). The cherry compote was more akin to a syrup, and its thickness and sweetness provided a good counterpoint to the lemon sorbet's icy sourness.