Leslie and I entered the Persian Bite for a second time in a year and a half. Had we tumbled down the rabbit hole? Everything was the same, but everything was different — an alternative reality.
The enticing scent from the open kitchen beckoned, “EAT ME.” I was not in Wonderland with Alice after the fall, I had stepped into the reincarnation of Persian Bite after the fire. And it wasn’t the White Rabbit that greeted us on the front steps, it was Rasul Zand, brother of Reza, who works magic in the kitchen.
Nearly a year ago, a large fire destroyed two buildings on Jay Street opposite Schenectady City Hall. While Persian Bite did not burn to the ground, smoke and water damage forced the brothers to close the restaurant that they had opened only a few months earlier.
WHERE: 703 Union St., Schenectady, 393-0693, www.persianbite.net
WHEN: 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. and 4:30-8 p.m. Monday-Friday; 5-9 p.m. Saturday
HOW MUCH: $53.49 before tax and tip
MORE INFO: accessible, parking and ramp behind building, street parking, all major credit cards accepted, noise level and Persian music permit conversation
But restaurateurs are tenacious, and Persian Bite opened for a second time in a new spot on lower Union Street, still in Schenectady. Rasul greeted us on the porch and led us into the first floor of a two-story house.
The differences from the original venue were obvious: The dining room was essentially the complete open space of the first floor, large enough to accommodate six tables, twice the number in the original Jay Street location. The counter area and kitchen ran in a strip along the left wall, while a cheerful faux fireplace on the right warmed the dining room.
The merlot walls and table linens were reminiscent of the original establishment, as were the gold charger plates and the seating by the window. Tables were identified not by numbers but by the names of Persian cities. Ours was Abadan, displayed proudly on a miniature easel.
Rasul handed us menus. We ordered large hot teas ($2) because their beer and wine permit has not yet been approved. The small essentially original menu was accompanied by a single sheet Grand Opening Special Menu with an appetizer, choice of two entrees and a dessert.
Since both Leslie and I were familiar with Persian Bite’s usual menu (Read Beverly’s Dec. 14, 2014 review of the original Persian Bite here.) we studied the items on the Grand Opening Special Menu.
We decided to share the sole appetizer Kashk-o Bademjan, sautéed eggplant, onion, garlic and mint mixed with whey ($5.50). It arrived as a luscious spreadable puree, perfect for the warm dinner plate sized Persian bread previously delivered to the table.
Leslie’s entrée was Zereshk polo ba morgh, basmati rice mixed with barberries and saffron. It can be ordered with or without chicken. Leslie chose to include the chicken ($18).
Mixed with the cranberry tasting barberries, rice is often called “jeweled rice” because of the garnet looking appearance of the berries. She also ordered Salad Shirazi, diced cucumbers, tomatoes, onions and mint — a palate cleanser of sorts.
My Baghali polo ba mahicheh, basmati rice with fresh dill and fava or lima beans with a lamb shank ($19), came with shredded red cabbage and lettuce spiked with a nippy dressing. The lamb was perfectly seasoned and fork tender. And large. Half went home with me.
I almost always save room for dessert. Persian Bite’s sole after-dinner sweet really isn’t sweet at all but it makes a sensible finish to a fine meal. Shole Zard ($3) is a molded dessert of sweet basmati rice with saffron (giving it a yellowish color), almond and a dash of cinnamon.
It was immensely different from Granma’s Norwegian rice pudding in which whipped heavy cream outweighed the rice two to one and bright red syrupy maraschino cherries cascaded down the sides like lava.
Rasul explained that that night’s specials would become the basis for a new menu. Special appetizers, entrees and desserts, as they were offered to diners, would gradually be added to the menu. A sensible way to expand a menu.
From ruins to success again — restaurateurs are a tough breed and those of us sitting at their tables enjoying their hospitality admire and support them.
Barberry is the fruit of the barberry bush and is used as a natural medication for various ailments of the kidneys, urinary tract and gastrointestinal tract, as an alternative source of vitamin C, for making jams, jellies and wine and in syrup form to mask the taste of medicines. To me, they taste sweet and sour like dried cranberries.