Restaurant Yas: Seats of civilization

Seats of civilization

Saffron ice cream (bastani-e gol-o bolbol) and the sweet, icy noodle surprise of faloodeh
Photo: Melora Koepke

Positively pleasant Persian food isn't far from home as new tastes meet ancient creations at NDG's Restaurant Yas

Sometimes, weeks, months and even years can pass without much change of landscape. This was thrown into stark relief when I received an email from a friend I’d barely run into since she’d had a son and bought a home across town – in it, she recommended a Persian restaurant in an out-of-the-way spot a block down from her new digs on Upper Lachine in NDG, suggesting I should pass by and grab a bite.

Though I don’t often happen to be "passing by" Upper Lachine in my carless, ‘hood-centric busy season, I was intrigued at the prospect of a cross-town adventure. Even on a blustery night, it’s beyond easy to get to Restaurant Yas from anywhere in town, as it’s only a five-minute walk from metro Vendome, just past the overpass, on a stretch of street that features two intriguing-looking Korean BBQ places and beloved Montreal sub hub Momesso’s.

Besides, Christmas seems like a good time to meet up for an Iranian meal that invites us to contemplate a very different December, in another part of the world. While Yas’s menu states "Fine Persian Cuisine," a very special-seeming and celebratory dinner can be had for an extremely reasonable price.

Though the space itself is a cozy underground stone-lined room, with terracotta wine rack built into the wall, when the graceful, delicate smells from the kitchen waft out, all Mediterraneanisms are banished. The wine list is limited, too, to a couple of red and white choices – which are fine and should have dissuaded my urge to order a dough abali, a salted yogurt drink that I always think I’ll like (why do I do that?)

The womblike dining room with white tablecloths and warm candlelight could be anywhere in the world; we imagined ourselves far from icy NDG, summering on the Caspian plains, with the smell of jasmine on the breeze. ("Yas" actually means "jasmine" in Persian, and the owners named the place after restaurants they previously had in this country and California.)

To start, olives and fresh pita, followed by an order of dolmeh. If you’ve never had freshly handmade grapevine leaf-wrapped rice, know that there’s almost no resemblance to the chilled, clammy dolmades out of a can at a Greek epicerie. The thyme-scented warm rice comforted and the tart leaves tore gently.

After that came an order of kashk o bademjan, a dish my friend described as "pretty much the best thing ever." The grilled eggplant topped with fried onion, garlic, mint and yogurt cream was dressed up to look like it might be fancy fusion tapas, but it wasn’t – and it was delicious.

The main course choices tended to group themselves around the kebab-salad-rice formula, and since it was a special occasion, we picked the top-of-the-line: kabob soltani ("king" in Persian), a pair of kebabs – actually spice-marinated filet mignon, so tender it could be cut with a spoon – and a ground beef skewer accompanied by a delicate, flavourful basmati pilaf and a grilled tomato. Our poultry choice was khoresht eh fesenjan, a chicken-breast stew of walnuts and pomegranate paste that was interesting and different – with all the brouhaha about how pomegranates are a miracle food, more attention should be paid to their use in Persian cuisine.

We were almost too done for dessert, but duty called; we asked the kitchen to surprise us and weren’t disappointed: sunny saffron ice cream (bastani-e gol-o bolbol) and faloodeh, a revelation that is considered one of the world’s oldest frozen desserts, dating back to 400 BC, when ice was brought down from the high-mountain ranges of Persia and folded with lime, rosewater and cornstarch noodles. Like many things on a cold winter’s night at Yas, it made us feel at home while also far, far away.

Restaurant Yas
5563 Upper Lachine Rd.; 514-483-0303
Dinner for two, before tax, tip and beverages: $50

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