Toronto, Ontario: I’ve always wanted to see the world. I have been to most countries but now waited too long to get to Iran. Of course, at the time of this writing, with their difficulties (2013), even this adventurous scribe wouldn’t consider visiting that country.
I love middle eastern food and no matter where I go, I always eat local meals, one of the reasons for my intention to get to Iran. And although Toronto, where I reside, is a multi ethnic centre, with its over 100 different groups, I was convinced that I could not get a good Iranian authentic meal, No, I convinced myself, it could only exist in that destination. Or so I thought.
What was the point of waiting since with that country’s conflicts, it may be decades before I’d have the chance for this wishful dream to materialize. Besides, I had this sudden urge to find a reasonably priced and seriously good Iranian restaurant here, so, of course, Google came to my aid. I found several in the Toronto area. But one that stood out was due to the fact that I had met the owner who was from Teheran, a cool hardworking gal in her very early forties. So impressed was I with her vigor, animated spirit and her knowledge of food, when the name of her restaurant came up, I decided this was where we would go for our tasting. I booked a reservation.
So on a very cold, early, dark winter, we headed to Queen Street West, which has become the Soho in this city of over 2.5 million people.
On this street, there’s everything from hand made shoes, and art galleries to new and terrific fashion designers, inexpensive ends for upholstery fabric, half nude women dancing in window of an questionable establishment, coffee and tea emporiums and the latest in contemporary furniture. A true mix of everything the neighborhood needed for all the young-ish people moving into the numerous condos that have blossomed in a short time. There is something for everyone and getting better each month.
So, about 3 miles from my home, I took a deep breathe in my warm abode before heading into our still unheated car. Home, I thought, is where I’d rather be but I had reserved at Banu Restaurant at 7.30pm.
Hidden between two stores, one a ‘snappy’ shoe salon and the other of unidentifiable circumstances, was Banu Restaurant. The narrow and not very noticeable green and white signage made me feel that perhaps this was not the place to be. But the moment I entered this long narrow space with every table filled with regular customers, except for our table which I had reserved, it felt right. Banu’s design is well thought out with a perfectly designed, inner space, very contemporary, white painted walls and the lovely odor of spices wafting through the air. The friendly attendants showed us to table and later helped with menu suggestions. All my initial feeling of negativity and apprehensiveness very quickly turned positive.
In one word, our meal was ‘splendid’. I would say ‘beyond words’ but I am writing so that would leave a very empty page!.
At the suggestion of Salome, the owner, we started with Kashk o Bademjan, roasted eggplant, turmeric and whey paste served with nigella seed barbari bread . To go with it we opted for Mast o Khiar yogurt with walnuts, diced cucumber, herbs, raisins and rose petals.
Our entree, Kabob choices were Torsh, chunks of beef tenderloin, pomegranate walnut marinade, and Bareh, the most tender Ontario lamb chops, shallot yogurt marinade. Although my husband wanted Don Balan, lamb testicles marinated in vodka and shallots ( the menu states, good balls are hard to come by!), I nixed that choice after all there are limits for ‘ball yearnings’. And the rum cake for dessert was terrific.
So without waiting at the airport, traveling double digit hours, perhaps entering an ‘iffy’, often warlike atmosphere, here we were in downtown Toronto, cozy, warm, delighted with our food. And if was less than air tickets to Iran and no, the grass is not always greener elsewhere.