Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Shiraz - Greenwood Village, Colorado

As I've said in my last few posts- the Denver area appears to boast a very lively, varied, and vibrant restaurant scene- especially to the south of town near the concentration of technology companies known as the Denver Tech Center. When I stopped for my sushi lunch, I noticed there was also an interesting Persian restaurant in the very same shopping center, so when the opportunity arose, I paid a visit to the restaurant called Shiraz...

Shiraz is a relatively small, hole-in-the-wall type spot. When I arrived, I was a little worried since I seemed to be the only diner in the place, and, even though it was about 6pm, the single member of the wait staff seemed surprised that anyone walked in the door. As my meal went on, though, other parties filtered in, and over the course of the one hour and a handful of minutes I was there, there were probably three or four tables worth of people ranging from solo (me) to a party of four- not an astounding amount of business, but enough. I was further relieved when I saw that the party of four was not only of some variety of middle eastern descent that I couldn't quite place, but they also spoke their native language fluently, and it appeared to be the same language the waitress spoke. This is usually a good sign for a deeply ethnic resturant- if the patrons include people from the same culture who are still that close to their home culture, the food is probably right on the money.

For my appetizer, I tried the falafel- a tradtional dish, often seen as street food in urban settings in the Northeast such as Manhattan. It is a ball of paste made from a variety of vegetables, grains, and spices, fried until crispy, and frequently served wrapped in pita bread with a yogurt/cucumber sauce similar to a gyro. This appetizer hit all those notes on a  plate- five large balls of falafel sitting on top of a pita, with a sidecar of yougurt/cucumber sauce. I was frankly astaounded at the portion size- this was clearly enough for 2-3 people to snack on, or to serve as an entree to itself. When I saw the sprinkling of dried parsley garnishing the plate, I chuckled to myself- recalling comments on various cooking competition shows ridiculing the practice as being "so 1980s"...

Once I started working on my falafel, though, I forgave the 1980-style plating immediately. Falafel as a street food is typically a greasy experience with inconsistant cooking. These falafel were perfect. The outside had a perfectly even, fairly thick crust that had the right amount of crunch, and not a trace of excess oil. The innards of the falafel were softer and had a slightly creamy texture, making for a nice contrast. They were seasoned perfectly, and the sauce had the right amount of tang to balance the darker, more sultry seasonings in the falafel itself. I regret beign too full to finish all five of these golfball-sized treats.

While the house specialty seems to be kabobs of various types, I opted for somethign a little different- a dish named on the menu as "Saffron Chicken." This dish turned out to be quite visually appealing- chunks of chicken breast stewed in a colorful saffron cream sauce, served with a side of Persian-style rice and roasted vegetables- broccoli and carrots. The carrots were glazed with something fairly sweet and tangy that I enjoyed quite a bit. The rice had a silky texture similar to the rice you'd find in a typical northern Indian dish.

The chicken itself was interesting. The meat was cooked just right- tender, but not rubbery. The saffron cream sauce was the real star though. As I mentioned earlier, and as the photo shows, this sauce is visually stunning- with it's intense yellow color, and bits of green and red bits of vegetable that appeared to be shreds of spinach leaves and small chunks of tomato and onion with a little dried parslet on top. The sauce had a nice consistency- not so runny that it spread all over the plate, but not so thick that it kept to itself. The flavor, had that subtle hint of saffron, and complemented the relative mild flavor of the chicken well. None of the flavors were overly bold, but they worked together well. This dish turned out to be lighter than I expected, which was a good thing after packing away the more filling and dense appetizer.

Another understated star of the night was my beverage- a cup of traditional hot Persian Tea served in an attractive glass. This tea was subtle but very good. It was obviously a high quality tea, that had a great aroma of fruit and spices. The flavor was somewhere between an Earl Grey and a Darjeerling- notes of lemon and berries mixed with spices. Despite being in the middle of Colorado, it helped give me some idea what a similar meal might taste and smell like in downtown Tehran.

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