Persian hot spot meets high expectations

Thursday, August 30th, 2007

North Shore restaurant has a small but cozy dining room and an extensive, fairly priced menu

A.R. Wodell

On what passed locally for a hot August evening, we wanted a refreshing yet substantial cuisine. Knowing that the North Shore has become a commercial hub for our growing Iranian community, we decided to investigate a rumoured Persian hot spot.

Located at the western edge of the Ambleside shopping strip, just half a block from the West Van Memorial Library, Shalizar proved an interesting find in more ways than one.

The restaurant is quite intimate, with just room for a dozen or so tables, but conveys a decidedly upscale vibe. The staff made us feel instantly at home –rather as if we had inadvertently crashed an elegant party in a stranger’s living room. This reminded us of one of the persistent myths about Iranian cuisine: that it does not adapt well to restaurants and is best enjoyed in the home of friends.

Shalizar begs to differ. Its menu is extensive (bolstered by a lasagna, and even fish and chips, in what can only be considered an unnecessary nod to Olde West Van tastes). We turned directly to the pages devoted to the glory of Persian specialties.

Partly to accommodate a vegan friend who joined us at the last moment, we started with a generous selection of appetizers and were delighted by their humus ($3.95), piquant spiced green olives ($2.95), zeytoon — a marvellous pickled veggie relish ($3.25), and a killer eggplant dip ($6.95), all accompanied by delicious puffy bread.

Shalizar offers to prepare many of its main dishes without meat, but the true veggie find on the menu is the generous Shalizar salad ($7.95). It’s priced as an appetizer but bigger than many restaurants’ entrees, combining three types of cheese with avocado and assorted greens, topped with a slightly spicy house dressing.

For our two main courses we opted for black cherry rice with chicken ($14.95), which was tender, spicy, and tart all at once. It came with optional butter topping, and gheymeh ($10.95), a beef/splitpea/eggplant combination simmered in slightly smoky tomato sauce, served beside a substantial mound of saffron basmanti rice. Both dishes were garnished with small salads. A single taste of the cherry rice prompted our vegan to order a side dish of his own ($5.50).

A solid wine list was being enjoyed by most other tables, but we opted for doogh — a homemade yoghurt-based drink with a slightly salty undertaste ($2.75) — which made a very fine complement to the food.

Owners Andrea and Alireza Kenari (the latter a chef who does not cook at the restaurant but supervises all food purchases) acquired the former Olde Fish and Chips Shop in April of 2006, and spent ten months completely renovating the premises.

“We saw there was no fine dining in Persian style in Vancouver, and decided to take the risk,” Andrea said. “We opened on Valentine’s Day, February 14th, and we were instantly rewarded — the restaurant was full, and customers came up to us afterwards with tears in their eyes, thanking us for offering this cuisine. How could you ask for a better response?”

Shalizar offers decidedly exotic elegance in a warm and welcoming venue; its portions are substantial and its prices more than reasonable. Having sated our party of three for just $68, we vowed to return in order to sample other intriguing offerings. A warning: reservations are advisable.

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1863 Marine Drive, West Vancouver, 604-921-9500

Lunch and dinner, open noon to 10 pm daily

Live music Saturday and Sunday evenings

Price: $$

© The Vancouver Sun 2007


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