Kit and Koobideh
Elmsford’s Shiraz outshines its modest surroundings with flavors of the Middle East.
Shiraz’s decor is simple, with a few Persian flourishes
There are restaurants you go to for the ambience and great food, and others for their convenience and reasonable prices. Then there are the restaurants that serve a dish or two that pop into your mind when you’re at your desk or driving your car—and you think to yourself how much you’d like to go back again.
We won’t return to Shiraz for the ambience. Not that it is unpleasant; it’s simply a nondescript room with a few decorative Persian touches here and there. The servers were pleasant though unpolished and struggled to get food out in a timely manner. But we’re willing to wait for that intensely smoky, chunky eggplant dip, kashk-e-bademjan, topped with a big pile of caramelized shallots. And yeah, we liked scooping it up with torn pieces of the giant buttery baked naan with which it (and most everything) was served.
While it was the eggplant that beckoned us back days later, our favorite may well have been the boorani-e-spinach, an enormous plate of garlicky sautéed spinach topped by a mound of incredibly thick, rich homemade yogurt that was just beginning to melt into the warm spinach. The yogurt is also served as an appetizer, both as maust-o-kheiar (with dried mint and rose petals) and maust-o-moosier (with shallots and pepper). It has an unusually rich mouth feel—almost like sour cream—but with the sophisticated trademark tanginess that lends it character.
Falafel salad was more ordinary, although the falafel was shaped in half-dollar-sized disks. Six of the crisp falafel disks sat atop an undressed salad and were served with a generous bowl of hummus sprinkled with the ubiquitous Middle Eastern lemony powdered spice, sumac. (The blend also was part of every table setting at Shiraz, much the way salt and pepper are in so many of our homes.) Although not greasy, the falafel was too mildly flavored. On the other hand, chickpeas dominated—as they should—the flavor of the hummus, with the requisite tahini enhancing the inherent mild nuttiness of the legume.
Among the choices to dip warm naan into: a chopped parsley-and-diced-tomato salad (in cup), and, clockwise from top left, hummus, mashed smoked eggplant, mashed eggplant garnished with dried yogurt; and steamed spinach topped with yogurt.
The herb salad, like the falafel salad, is served undressed; oil and vinegar are brought to the table. We found the sprigs of mint with woody stems unappealing—and the sprinkling of scallions, walnuts, feta, and sliced radish, cucumber, and tomato too meager to stand up to the powerful mint. The Shirazi salad, a classic shepherd’s salad of lettuce, parsley, tomato, onion, and cucumber seasoned with sumac, is a better choice.
At the heart of the menu are, of course, the kebabs. None disappointed. Chunks of Cornish hen on the bone were flavorful and moist. We were equally impressed with the flavor-rich filet mignon kebab. One long strip of the marinated filet was skewered and grilled to tender perfection. Moist chicken-breast kebabs were also savory, thanks to saffron and other spices. The koobideh, or ground-meat kebab, is indeed mouthwatering as the menu described.
There are entrées other than kebabs. Slow-cooked lamb shanks were falling-off-the-bone tender but rather bland. Fesenjan, meatballs simmered in a thick ground-walnut-and-pomegranate sauce, had an almost gritty texture and was overtly sweet. The meatballs that were served warm were dry, and several meatballs had ice crystals(!) in the center.
Fortunately, we fared better with dessert. The baklava had wonderful pistachio flavor. We didn’t immediately fall in love with the saffron ice cream: the intense flavor required acclimation. Our first bite was almost shocking…our second somewhat appealing…and by the time we had that third taste, we realized it had an almost mysterious allure that kept us going back for more.
Would we go back to Shiraz again? That eggplant dip has crossed our minds at unexpected times, and the kebabs were universally good. Shiraz scored well in a third (and yes, increasingly important) category: a meal there is quite reasonable. Appetizers and salads ranged from $5 to $10, and generously portioned kebabs (enough that there were some left for lunch the next day) averaged around $16. While the ambience may not be much, it is a pleasure to eat well without breaking the bank.
81 E Main St, Elmsford
Hours: Tues to Sun 11 am–10 pm. Appetizers: $5–$10; entrées: $13–$18; desserts: $3.50–$5.
Bring your own alcohol.
★★★★—Outstanding ★★★—Very Good