The Pomegranate Restaurant
"The Pomegranate! You have to go" my friend assailed me a few months ago while we were discussing the spoils of Little Italy. I went there last night and it was..." (insert eye-roll clearly indicating a rapturous experience).
As she isn't someone who's prone to exaggeration, I made a mental note to make The Pomegranate the destination the next time I got a hankering for Iranian food.
So I headed to The Pomegranate last week and briefly loitered outside to compare menus with its newer, 'little sister' restaurant, Sheherzade, which is helpfully situated right next to its older sibling. As Sheherzade is more of a kabob-centric grill, and we were in the mood for stews, we stuck to our original choice.
The experience of stepping inside The Pomegranate is a bit like entering into a certain famous C.S Lewis wardrobe. Illuminated with softly diffused light from the lanterns suspended from a bright turquoise ceiling, the interior is resplendent with all kinds of Iranian furnishings, from rugs to a tiled goldfish pool.
The hubbub of College and Bathurst suddenly seems much further away than the half block of route reversal it really is.A server acting as hostess immediately approaches us to ask if we have reservations. I look around the half empty restaurant, and reply: "no, we don't."
She looks me up and down while she peers at a notepad that I can see has a very short list on it. I ask if the restaurant is fully booked; she looks a bit flustered and says no, then asks "well, what time is it anyway?"
We tell her it's just after 7, and she gestures at an empty table for two (one of several available). "That's booked at 8.30, can you be finished by then?" she asks.
As my companion and I are getting a bit perplexed by being detained for no obvious reason, we agree to be finished within 90 minutes and take the table offered.
It's a bit of an odd start but, thankfully, turns out to be the only blip in the entire experience. We can't help noticing though that when we leave (at 8.40, no-one arrives to claim the table) that apart from one large party, the restaurant is no more full than when we arrived.
Once seated we have a different, very knowledgeable server that gives us a lot of good advice on our respective selections.
We order a fresh mint tea ($1.50) and a doogh ($3), a non-sweet yoghurt-based fermented drink that's diluted with water and has a slightly thicker consistency than milk.
The doogh arrives dusted with rose and looks beautiful. Rather than being filling, it's so refreshing and delicious that I finish it long before our entrees arrive.
As a shared appetizer we order the kashk-e bademjaan ($6.95), a charred eggplant, garlic and walnut dip made with tangy Persian whey. A generous portion, even for two people, arrives warm and topped with rings of caramelized, crisp onion. The combination of walnuts and curds make the dip rich without being too creamy.
We split entrees of the most popular dish on the menu, fesenjaan ($14.50) and qeymeh ($14.95).
The fesenjaan is rich stew made with ground walnuts and pomegranate that comes either vegetarian or with chicken, we opt for the chicken. And it's immediately obvious why it's the most popular dish. The fesenjaan is so deeply flavourful that it alone justifies a trip to Pomegranate. The fruit itself works extremely well in the savoury sauce, adding nuttiness and a little sweetness to the meat.
Qeymeh is a regular fixture on the menu, a mix of tender lamb, yellow split peas, tomatoes and tart dried lime which infuses the stew with a strong citrus-oil flavour. We pick a daily special version that comes with the addition of huge chunks of well-sauteed eggplant which adds even more meatiness to the consistency of the stew.
Despite the initial seating negotiations, Pomegranate turned out to be a very worthy recommendation.
The food, drinks and restaurant environment were all sublime. The service was quick and we were well advised and attended to throughout the meal.
Photos by Emma McIntyre