Saturday, January 28, 2012
Shiraz Grill: Persian in Unexpected Places
Shiraz Grille is not far from where I grew up - set back in the parking lot, a little off the corner of Breton and 28th Street in Grand Rapids. It's a nice neighborhood, but not a glamorous location. Shiraz has many things. Curb appeal is not one of them.
The interior is well appointed, but also a little awkward, maybe twice as large as it needs to be for any of the crowds I've seen. Bigger is not always better; the nights I've visited have never been more than 50% full - making the lively crowd there for dinner seem a little isolated.
What Shriaz lacks in ambiance it makes up for in taste. Beautifully presented, the food Shiraz puts out is ambitious and absolutely on point, with surprising flourishes and attention to detail.
I've started with a few different things, but the Shirazi Salad is the name of the game here. This is going to be a seriously intense meal - so best to start light, and with mint. The salad - tomato, cucumber, parsley and a simple, fresh mint vinaigrette - leaves you perked up for what's to come. If you end up getting a soup (they vary, I've never had a bad one), you get these little slices of a yeasted flat bread - not altogether dissimilar from the bread pillows at Sultan's in Lansing. The soups are good. The bread is dynamite. My recommendation: Get the Shirazi Salad, and ask for a few pieces of the dynamite toast.
After that, rhe feel of the place starts to warm up - the soul of Shiraz is invisible until you start to eat.
Out comes a little chef's treat - something small and artful, and generally involving a scallion. Wait staff here are attentive, in sync with the kitchen, and no sooner have you polished off the treat, then other pieces start to arrive.
The presentation is not lavish, but it's precise and beautiful for both of the entree styles - Khoreshes (stews) and Kabobs. Both are impressive, but I found the Gheymeh Bodemjon Khoresh particularly lovely. Braised beef works its way through cinnamon, lentils and tomato to come away both deeply savory and complex, with tastes that unfold one-by-one with each bite. I love spices like that - where the taste is tied up in timing of the flavors. Kabobs, well spiced by any measure, lack the depth of the Khoreshes, but are beautifully done. I am especially fond of the Chicken Koubide, a ground, spiced chicken, far superior to the simple tender chicken breast. Basically, you want the kitchen at Shiraz to do as much as possible to the food that you're eating. They do miraculous things.
This goes for the rice as well, where you can get one of a handful of variations. Favorite: Shirin Pol, where barberries and almonds work with the saffron into a tart, almost sweet rice; amazing with the sharper flavors of the entrees.
By the end of the meal, enveloped in the warmth of the food, the coldness of the place is totally evaporated. Shiraz is an ambitious place - not perfect, but pretty damn good - and I sincerely hope they draw in the crowds that they merit.