THE POMEGRANATE (420 College, at Bathurst, 416-921-7557) This cozy, unpretentious spot delivers reasonably priced Persian specialties. Dishes range from shareable tapas to deluxe mains accessorized with sweet and fruity garnishes. Complete meals for $30 per person ($18 at lunch), including all taxes, tip and a $5 imported beer. Average main: $10. Open Tuesday-Wednesday 11 am to 5 pm, Thursday 11 am to 9 pm, Friday 11 am to 10:30 pm, Saturday 5 to 10:30 pm, Sunday 5 to 9 pm. Closed Monday. Licensed. Access: one step at door, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
Forget pizza, pasta and panini. Subtitled Persian Chai House and Eatery, the Pomegranate goes against the grain of its neighbours on College. Open mere weeks, this inexpensive and casual spot bucks the Cal-Ital clichés by offering authentic takes on a global cuisine rarely seen south of the 401.
Past the shiny silver samovar displayed in its plate glass facade, find a low, carpet-covered chaise tossed with a sheepskin throw holding a chess board. A hookah sits next to a pale blue-tiled tub. The narrow storefront's brick walls have been exposed, and here and there shrine-like mantles hold lamps made for burning midnight oils. Frankincense, no doubt. Very Yorkville 67.
Warmly welcomed, we're soon seated at one of the homey room's several tables. While the McGarrigle sisters croon inoffensively but somewhat incongruously over the CD player, we're soon sipping tall glasses of Doogh ($2), a salty carbonated yogurt soda that recalls a fizzy lassi.
Believed to bring good luck to travellers, Aash-e Reshteh ($3.50) literally translates as noodle soup, its lengthy linguine ribbons swimming in a slippery spinach purée that's been thickened with fresh coriander and parsley. The consistency of a garlicky Caribbean calaloo, it gets extra flavour from a garnish of chopped mint, crisply caramelized onion threadS and a last-minute swirl of yogurty whey.
Though the menu describes it as a must at every Persian meal, we'll wait till next summer when tomatoes finally lose their deathly winter pallor before ordering Salad Shirazi ($3.95) again. Aside from that, it's a serviceable mix of cukes and red onion doused in A dilled lime vinaigrette, not that far removed from a Greek or Indian kachumber salad.
We fell in love with Qormeh Sabzi at the late, lamented Kolbeh in Kensington, and Pomegranate's version ($8.95) is just as likeable. A not-so-meaty spinach stew - we count exactly one cube of terrific slow-cooked veal in the bowl - it gets a surprisingly puckering punch from whole dried limes.
First-time restaurateur and chef Alireza Fakhrashrafi does chicken several ways, all slow-braised and subtly spiced, each with a signature rice side. For Zereshk Polo, a boneless breast ($9.95) or tastier leg 'n' thigh combo ($8.95) team up with a marvellously fluffy basmati saffron pilau flung with tart cranberry-like barberries and green pistachios.
The birds also appear as variations on Adas Polo ($9.95 breast/$8.95 leg), an intoxicating heap of rainbow-hued, rosewater-scented rice strewn with slivered almonds, firm lentils, whole dates and sultanas topped with more onion threadS ($6.95 without chicken). Who needs dessert after this?
A few days later, we taste test the Pomegranate's tapas-style lineup of shareable dishes served with focaccia-esque lavash flatbread. Mirza Qasemi, available as a main with plain basmati, a sprig of parsley and a section of orange ($7.95) or solo ($5.50), combines smoky Asian eggplant mash with sweet garlicky tomato and onion to create a tangy dip very similar to Hopper Hut's mincemeat-like Seeni Sambal.
File Kashk-e Bademjaan ($5.95) under acquired taste, a not unpleasant spread of charred eggplant, fried mint and crushed walnuts in garlicky whey dressed with dates.
A near-tapenade, nippy Zeitoon Parvardeh sees green olives turn black once they're aged in syrupy pomegranate molasses. A mixed plate of Pickled Pleasures (both $2.95) zaps the palate in other unexpected directions: tangy tarragon-tinged okra gherkins; whole cloves of garlic, their bite neutralized by the pickling process; a fine dice of vegetable torshi, a yellow relish of baby cauliflower florets; and carrot flecked with black nigella seeds.
Despite the hookah and the bathtub, the Pomegranate is unlikely to draw the caviar-and-champagne set away from their after-hours shenanigans at Amber. But for the rest of us, this relaxed room with its far-reaching grub gets it just about right without having to resort to pizza, pasta or panini.
Where's the Drake's ramp?
Yes, it's wonderful that visionary Jeff Stober poured 6 million of his dollars into the divey Drake Hotel (1150 Queen West, at Beaconsfield, 416-531-5042), turning it into the west side's hippest scene. And the joint's newly installed accessible washroom on the first floor is one of the most stylish loos in town. But couldn't he have put some of that bread into building a ramp at one of the club's several entrances so those who use chairs could get to use his ultra-chic can?
Off the Marc
Quixotic ex-Centro chef Marc Thuet is now also formerly of the Fifth (221 Richmond West, at Duncan, 416-979-3005), the pricey supper club NOW panned just two months back. After the review, the rooftop boîte reduced its $90 three-course prix fixe to a more realistic 50 bucks per head. "We have ceased all business relations with Marc Thuet," reads the terse statement issued by management. "And we have nothing further to add," it adds.
Reading between the lines, I'd say the split sounds sounds less than amicable, and no replacement has yet been announced. Odds-on favourite: Masayuki Tamaru , the peripatetic cook who left the Fifth to helm Rouge, then opened Crush on King West before returning to the about-to-be-defunct Rouge.