BANU (777 Queen West, 416-777-2268) Complete meals for $30 per person, including all taxes, tip and a glass of wine. Average main $15. Open for lunch Tuesday to Friday noon to 3 pm, dinner 6 pm to 1 am, Saturday and Sunday noon to 1 am. Closed Monday. Licensed. Access: barrier-free, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
In all my years on the cutting edge of Toronto's culinary scene, I've never learned of a new resto in another newspaper that I didn't already know about.
That's until I read Franz Ferdinand singer Alex Kapranos's weekly on-the-road food diary in British broadsheet The Guardian (www.guardian.co.uk), of all places. There, Kapranos writes about a west-side T.O. Persian eatery that's news to me.
After spending a few hours at the Done Right Inn, which he describes as a homely dive bar with Dead Kennedys on the jukebox and no food left in the kitchen, he walked into Banu. It was their first day of business.
Since then, two-month-old Banu subtitled Iranian Kabob Vodka Bar has been building a clientele by word of mouth. It's not difficult to guess what caught Kapranos's eye that April afternoon.
From the street, the inviting room looks like a chic lounge, all low, boxy, white vinyl banquettes, tables tiled in turquoise ceramic, a jazzy ethno-dance soundtrack on the CD player that suggests the Buddha Bar by way of Baghdad.
A quick scan of the card reveals that Banu not only has heart (del, $10), but balls. Literally. Banu is the only resto in town that serves lamb's testicles (dom balan, $11). Supplied by the Healthy Butcher like all of the organic meat on the short card of kebabs and marinated in vodka, they're definitely not for the squeamish. If you were to taste them blindfolded, though, you'd probably guess mushy meatballs, which, come to think of it, is exactly what they are.
The heart comes cubed and a bit chewy, not the tender steak-like morsels I remember from El Bodegon. And if that's not an awful lot of offal, how about a starter of braised and sliced cow's tongue (zaban, $9) sauced in a mild curried cream? Thought not.
But it's not all gizzards 'n' guts at Banu. A quartet of thick, meaty lamb chops (shish-like, $21) arrive exquisitely pink at their centres and beautifully fumed from the grill, a pinch of table-side sumac lifting them into overdrive.
A cousin to kibbeh, koobideh ($17) turns out to be two meaty cylinders of smoky minced ground beef, big enough to share at lunch. A generous portion of beef tenderloin (barg, $23) gets cut against the grain and shaped like a palm leaf before being grilled to medium-rare perfection.
All mains come swathed in a large sheet of soft lavash flatbread. Inside, find a grilled Roma-style tomato, lengths of green scallion, a raw red radish or two and leaves of fresh mint, tarragon and basil. Rip off a strip of bread, grab a hunk of kebab, add some herb, wrap it up and and dip into a bowl of yogurt thickened with shallots (mast o mooseer, $5).
The only two desserts on offer are both brought in. But who's complaining when they're only three bucks the first a flaky puff pastry square layered with crème pâtissière, the second a sponge cake rollette filled with pistachio cream?
Polishing off the last of our tumblers of pomegranate juice ($2.50 small/$5 large), we lay waste to the complimentary bowl of fabulously salted mixed nuts on our table. About to leave, we ask first-time restaurateur Samira Mohyeddin, who owns Banu with her sister Salome and brother/chef Amir, if she remembers the dapper Scottish pop star.
"When he left, a customer who recognized him asked me if I knew who he was," says Samira, whose family fled Tehran 28 years ago and who's currently taking graduate courses at U of T in modern Middle Eastern history and women's studies. "I don't listen to the radio, so I had no idea.
"All I could think of was that Austrian archduke from the first world war."