Taste Persian kabobs
at Café Parvaneh
I didn’t know what I was missing when
the waiter at Café Parvaneh said the restaurant was
out of white rice.
Unfazed, I ordered a lamb dish
that Was served instead with a pilaf,
which the apologetic waiter insisted
was not really appropriate for
the meal. It seemed fine to me, and
I didn’t understand the waiter’s concern
until my second visit, when the
white basmati was back in supply.
Delicate and fluffy, this is no
ordinary rice. The long, spindly
grains have a deliciously nutty flavor and aroma.
Thinly draped in
butter and laced with saffron, they
make the perfect pillow for the
kabobs and stews prepared in the
But it’s not as if
the main courses need help. Café
Parvaneh, which opened in 1995,
focuses on traditional cuisine of
Persia (now Iran), leaving the more
well-known Middle Eastern staples
such as hummus and falafel to other
restaurants. While not completely
removed, the fare is just different
enough from its neighboring
cuisines to give Parvaneh a niche,
and owners Mohsen and Parvaneh
Pirzadeh have earned a well deserved
Located in a strip shopping center
off Elliott Road in east Chapel
Hill, the small, glass-front space is
spartan but homey. You almost feel
that if you walked through the
kitchen, you’d step right into the
family living room.
Kabobs make up a large part of
the menu, with choices of ground
beef ($7.95), steak ($10.95), chicken
($9.95), and, oddly, Polish kielbasa
($7.95). With two skewers each,
these are served over the fluffy rice
with a grilled tomato and a few
slices of raw, pungent onions.
The chicken kabobs came with
chunks of moist breast meat flavored
with sumac, a dark, powdered
seasoning that gives the meat a tart,
lemony flavor. In fact, the restaurant
keeps sumac in shakers, and diners
are invited to sprinkle it over just
about anything, which I recommend.
The restaurant also serves a number
of stewed lamb dishes, such as
khoresh ghaimeh badenjun ($9.95),
which featured bite-sized chunks of
lamb swimming in a rich tomato based
sauce with eggplant and
starchy split peas. The mushy eggplant
which absorbed the flavors,
stole the show.
Perhaps the dish that best embodies the restaurant’s adherence to
tradition is the khoresh fesenjun ($9.95),
which is among the more unusually
delicious meals I’ve had recently.
The chicken breast meat was
buried in a thick pasty, grainy
sauce. I couldn't barely venture a
guess as to what was in it until the
waiter explained that it contained
apples, carrots, onions, pomegranate
and walnuts blended together
into a paste. The fruits and vegetables
provide sweetness, and the walnuts
add the slightly bitter flavor
and the texture.
Appetizers include an interesting
soup of beans, vegetables and noodles
reminiscent of minestrone
($2.50/$3.50), and a bean-potato
salad tossed in a tangy vinaigrette
($2.75). The diced cucumbers in
yogurt ($2) turned out to be more
like soup without many diced
cucumbers, while the halim badenjun
lamb appetizer ($7.95) was very
oily and was served lukewarm.
For lunch, Café Parvaneh has an
affordable assortment of sandwiches
and salads. The chicken salad
pita ($4.95) included mayonnaise,
peas, carrots, eggs and potatoes. It
must have weighed a pound.
Café Parvaneh would even be a
great place to go for a quiet coffee
or dessert. The restaurant has a full
coffee and espresso list. It also
serves excellent tea, both hot and
cold. A limited but affordable beer
and wine list includes several beers
and about 10 wines, none more than
$4.50 per glass.
For dessert, the golfball-size
dates were sweet and chewy.
stuffed with two crunchy, roasted
almonds. The baklava was moist
and gooey with razor-thin layers of
pastry and pistachio halves.
If you go, be patient. The restaurant takes its time in preparing and
serving the food.
But don't let that keep you away.
The Pirzadehs have created just the
type of restaurant that makes the
triangle a great place to live and eat.