I am attracted by small restaurants, those perfect little gems in modest settings.
Six-month-old Persian Bite on Jay Street in Schenectady is one, tucked near the end of a strip of small restaurants and stores opposite City Hall. Friend Leslie had advised me the food was great, so we agreed to meet on a recent Friday.
Merlot-tinted walls and tablecloths filled a tiny dining room with space for only three tables. The dining room was tastefully adorned with Persian paintings and graphics, and open to an equally compact kitchen separated by a small food case and counter.
I chose the table in the window with a view of City Hall and pedestrians hustling down Jay Street. The bench-like seats were softened by embroidered pillows.
WHERE: 96 Jay St., Schenectady. 393-6093, Persianbite.net
WHEN: 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday-Saturday; closed Sunday
HOW MUCH: $29.92 with tax and tip but without dessert
MORE INFO: Single menu all day, handicap accessible, street parking. All major credit cards accepted
Enjoying my Persian tea, ($1.50) I perused the brief menu while I waited for Leslie. When she arrived, we decided to order a variety of Persian “bites,” and wound up selecting a dish from each of the four categories on the menu.
We were both hungry and immediately ordered Must O’ Kheyar, yogurt and cucumber ($1.99), and fresh-baked bread ($1.60) from the four appetizers offered. Warm, soft flatbread the size of a dinner plate arrived quickly. We tore off pieces and filled them with cool yogurt and cucumber, washing bites down with sips of tea.
There are five Kabob Plates ($8.99-$16.99) on the menu, skewers of lamb, chicken or beef, either in bite-sized chunks or ground and grilled over an open flame till slightly charred. Each comes with rice with saffron and a small salad, dressed with a slightly nippy sauce and braised tomato half.
I chose Chenjeh Kabob for $9.99 — a skewer of six pieces of tender, marinated lamb fillet grilled to a perfect, slightly pink center. Leslie opted for Chicken Tikka, one of the three Kebab Wraps (all $4.99).
Tikka is yogurt seasoned with coriander, cumin, garlic powder, paprika, garam masala, ginger, dried mint and chili powder. The marinated meats were flavorful but not overspiced.
Of the three Veggie Wraps we chose Mirza Ghasemi — grilled eggplant, tomato, egg and olive oil ($4.50).
Each wrap would have been adequate for lunch but sharing them added variety to our already exotic meal.
Dessert was not listed on the menu, and we were both too full to inquire.
I try to eat in a healthy manner at home, but don’t fret over calories when dining out. Yet when I considered my meal at Persian Bite, I realized that it was healthful: Yogurt replaces sour cream, marinated lean meat is grilled over an open flame.
Owner-operator Rasul Zand and brother and cook Reza work the kitchen. Reza’s wife, April, rounds out the small staff.
The menu explains that the brothers came to Schenectady from Iran (the ancient land of Persia) in 2005 and “fell in love with this revitalizing environment.”
Explaining that Schenectady offered the same cultural sensitivity as their motherland, the brothers hope Persian Bite will “become a meeting place of these two vibrant cultures and lifestyles, a place where we may learn from one another by sharing stories of love and friendship.”
And good food.
About a week after my initial visit I returned to Persian Bite for dessert. Reza explained that the only dessert available at the moment was “sholeh zard,” Persian rice pudding ($4).
Literally translated, the name means “yellow wobbly,” describing the saffron-induced color and slightly soft texture. The ancient recipe combines basmati rice with sugar, saffron, slivered almonds, cardamom, rose water and cinnamon. The pudding is often decorated with pistachios and designs made with cinnamon sprinkled over a stencil.