KOLBEH (160 Baldwin, at Kensington, 416-597-8296) Subtitled "a taste of Persia," this casual spot on the first floor of the George Brown condo conversion offers inexpensive and filling dinners that mix the best of the Middle East with the fire of the Subcontinent. Complete meals for $18 per person, including all taxes and tip. Open Monday to Saturday 11:30 am to 8:30 pm. Closed Sunday. Unlicensed. Access: barrier-free front area, five steps to washrooms on lower level. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
does some freak of nature enable me to sniff out the latest bargain-basement boite as soon as it opens its doors? Or is does something in the air pull me to these hitherto undiscovered finds? In the case of Kolbeh, a new Middle Eastern spot in Kensington Market, it's a bit of both. For weeks I've been eyeing the yet-to-open semi-subterranean spot on the ground floor of the George Brown condo conversion with bated taste buds. Then, as I stroll past this holiday Monday, an intoxicating aroma literally pulls me in off the street. Turkey! No, not the country, but the bird.
Though Kolbeh subtitles itself "a taste of Persia," today co-owner and chef Shamsi Shams has prepared an all-out traditional Thanksgiving spread, complete with giblet gravy, for a fully booked house.
Thinking I'm out of luck, I resign myself to returning next day for leftovers. I'm lucky that I do. There's nothing surplus about a steaming, brimming bowl of turkey-vegetable soup, a delicious autumnal potage thick with spinach, red kidney beans, carrot, onion and garlic, and fragrant with mint and coriander.
A slightly different take, meatball and vegetable soup sees similar ingredients minus the turkey -- sweetened with pomegranate juice and crunched with dried split peas (both $3.95). The two improve significantly with a healthy blast of Shams's homemade paprika-based hot sauce.
Although there's a two-page menu, the best -- and most likely to be available -- dishes are listed on a chalkboard above the bar. Morgh-o-Polo finds a sautéed garlic-marinated boneless chicken breast finished with sweet candied orange zest, pistachios and almonds.
Ghormeh Sabzi, a tasty near-stew, features shredded steak zapped with dried lime, spinach, onion and kidney beans; while Ghaymeh Bodemjoon includes large eggplant chunks, diced beef, onion and split yellow peas in a slightly sour tomato-saffron sauce (all $9.95 with saffron-scented and carrot-sweetened basmati rice).
Shams's lime-infused hummus ($3.95) will satisfy anyone's garlic jones, though cold pita wedges do little to help, and a glass of doogh ($1.50) -- the Persian version of a salty lassi topped with dried mint -- will neutralize any lingering heat.
Finish things off with honey Sohan ($2.95), a pseudo-peanut-brittle made with striped almonds and crushed pistachios.