Cafe Parvaneh  
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THE HERALD-SUN, Durham, North Carolina
Friday, February 21, 2003


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 restaurant’s kitchen.

    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 “regular” following.

    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.


Family owned and operated to bring you the exquisite taste of homemade Persian Cuisine