Chef Chat, Part 3: Morty Parsa of Kasra Persian Grill
The Sultani platter at Kasra Persian Grill
Photos by Matthew Dresden
We started with the house-made flatbread called taftoon, a warm, slightly puffy disc the size of a large plate. It was crusty, chewy and and good enough to eat by itself, but happily it was accompanied by the Special Herb Plate: walnuts, feta cheese, sliced tomato, cucumber, and red onion, plus several sprigs of fresh basil and mint. (The standard herb plate, which comes out before every meal for free like chips and salsa at a Mexican restaurant, contains feta, basil, mint, parsley, scallions, and radishes.) Parsa told me that every Persian meal "must have fresh herbs along with the entree," and suggested I grab a few things off the plate, tear off a hunk of bread, and "roll it up like a taco." Done and done.
Taftoon, the special herb plate, hummus, and mast khiar
If I needed a change of pace from the herbs, the kitchen had also brought out a bowl of Kasra's intensely garlicky hummus. Wow! Talk about something that grabs your taste buds and doesn't let go. In my experience, the only thing with comparable potency is the garlic sauce at Zankou Chicken in Los Angeles. Adam Parsa joked that if you're a Twilight fan, you "need to pick Team Edward or Team Jacob before you try the hummus."
Up close and personal with Kasra's hummus
I then began alternating dips of hummus with dips of refreshing mast khiar, a soothing bowl of homemade yogurt, crushed mint, and chopped cucumber.
For the main course, Chef Parsa brought out the Sultani: one skewer of beef kubideh (spiced ground beef) and one skewer of beef barg (butterflied filet mignon), on a bed of basmati rice studded with cranberries, pistachios, almonds, and saffron. Both of the meats were gently seasoned (with ground onions, salt, and for the filet mignon, pepper), extremely tender, and perfectly complemented by the fluffy, delicate rice and the sweet kick of the berries and the crunch of the nuts.
Kasra's famous kubideh, made exactly the same as in Tehran.
From time to time I caught my breath and sipped on a doogh, a cold beverage and digestive aid made with homemade yogurt, club soda, mint, and salt. It was nicely fizzy and soothing, although it also seemed suspiciously good for you.
Doogh, a Persian yogurt drink
Chef Parsa observed that his restaurant's two signature dishes were the kubideh and the hummus. "Everyone comes here and they fall in love with them," he said. It's easy to see why. I asked if the hummus recipe had come from his father's restaurant in Tehran, but it turned out to be his own creation. "Hummus is actually not an Iranian appetizer," he said. "It's mainly Arabic. But I saw hummus had a lot of potential customers, because everybody was asking for it. We use a lot of garlic in our country, so I changed the ingredients and made an Iranian-style hummus." It's a bit ironic that one of Kasra's most popular dishes is the least traditional thing on the menu.
There was no dessert with my meal, because Kasra gets all of its desserts from Phoenicia Market. Yet another reason to patronize Phoenicia!
As I contendedly munched my way through the dishes, I thought about Chef Parsa's contention that Iranian food was extremely simple. It's true enough - most of the dishes I tried had fewer than five ingredients -- but it's Kasra's impeccable technique that (along with top-quality ingredients) is clearly the key to the restaurant's success. If making great Persian food was really so simple, anyone could do it.
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