Contemporary discourse about Iran overshadows discussions about the country's past, when the people of the land sometimes known as Persia were inventing wine and the world's first postal system, in addition to new techniques for cooking protein (more on that after the jump). Pars, an Iranian restaurant in Chelsea, attempts to access that glory.
To create our combination plate ($15.95), we selected three appetizers and small portions arrived separately. The wedge of kuku sabzi only looked like quiche. Parsley rendered it green, but too long in the pan rendered it bitter, with a greasy crunch. Or maybe the dill or coriander had gone bad. Skip this.
Better was the borani, an icy amalgamation of yogurt, spinach, and garlic. Here we found freshness--yay!--but also restraint; less yay. The hand doing the adding held back on the leafy greens as well as the garlic. Best was the kashke bademjan, eggplant fried, chopped, and blended with yogurt, garlic, mint, and crushed walnuts.
It's said that you eat with your eyes, but at Pars we ate with our nose, particularly the aromatic zereshk polo with chicken ($16.95). We could smell the saffron as the plate left the kitchen, and we could see its telltale yellow-orangeness when the pile o' rice arrived at our table. A braised chicken leg was buried beneath the creamy Basmati, flecked with almost translucent barberries. But these lovely gems weren't just for effect: the berries lent a welcome sour note to an incredibly mild plate.
Ground beef and ground lamb had been mixed, shaped, and grilled to make the koobideh ($14.95). By most accounts, kebabs originated in Persia, although it's kind of hard to imagine actually identifying the first person who moulded minced meat and stuck it in a fire. This version does its enigmatic ancestor well, evidencing a juiciness and just enough of the grill to make us imagine the flames.
Pars tends to play it safe. There's an in-house belly dancer named Valeri, according to the website, but she only comes out on Saturdays. The menu offers a strong selection of proteins, but mostly in the form of kebabs. Some boldness appears in the decor, via white-washed walls adorned with sparkly vests and caps, lamps bedecked in intricate beadwork, and a long bench covered in woven cloth. Perhaps keeping it mild is a political strategy as much as a culinary one here. Nevertheless, Pars is best for: a temperate date.