Saturday, I turned 46, and had the good fortune of being surrounded by friends and family who like to feed me. After seeing a review for Banu last week and passing it on to Pat, she and Betty decided to take me out for lunch there. The restaurant bills itself as an Iranian Kebob Vodka Bar, and we were not disappointed in any of those respects.
We started with Nan o Paneer, an appetizer plate of sesame flat bread, a sheep’s milk cheese that I had never tasted before, fresh herbs, walnuts and watermelon slices. This was the only dish that I took time to photograph, and only then after we’d demolished most of it; the others were so good that we tucked them back before I even thought of the camera again.
At that point, we moved on to the vodka. There are several varieties on the menu, and they’re served very cold and on ice so that you can sip them with your meal. I had the Wokka Saki from the UK, which is a grain-based vodka flavoured with Japanese sake (LCBO #602573): a distinctive taste of sake, and very smooth. Betty and Pat both had the Zubrowka Bison Grass vodka from Poland, pale greenish-yellow in colour and a really lovely aroma and taste (LCBO #35840). We also had the tiny glasses of fresh juice: sour cherry for Betty and I (yum!) and pomegranate for Pat.
For the main course, I had Koobideh, which was the most delicious minced beef, formed into kebabs, grilled and rolled with herbs in lawash flatbread. All of their meats are from the Healthy Butcher, an organic butcher in my ‘hood, and I don’t know how much of the taste was from the high-quality and organic nature of the meat versus the preparation, but it had an amazing rich taste, and very lean. In addition to a side dish of diced cucumber, tomato and onions in a light herb vinegar dressing, there was a little dish of powdered sumac to sprinkle on the grilled meat. The evening before, I had been walking with Ingrid near her sailing club when the weather turned too rough to sail, and we were looking at the now-ripe sumac and I commented that it was edible but had never eaten it. Now I have, and can say that it imparts a slight citrusy flavour as well as (so I’m told) being a good source of Vitamin C.
Betty had a dish of saffron-infused grilled chicken breast chunks, which I can’t find on the Banu menu online — the lunch menu is slightly different from the dinner one shown there. Very distinctive taste of saffron, as opposed to it just being used as a colouring agent.
Pat, always a “balls to the wall” eater, had Dom Balan, the lamb testicles, which were marinated in vodka before grilling, and served with a tasty pickle side dish. The testicles themselves were reminiscent in flavour to sweetbreads, although a bit too mushy in texture for my liking.
To accompany all of this, we shared an order of Adasi (lentil salad) and Mast o Moseer (yogurt with shallots, served with more lawash flatbread).
At the end of all this, the server delivered some tiny squares of a baklava-like dessert: definitely flavoured with orange-blossom water like a middle-eastern baklava (as opposed to the Greek variety that uses honey), but it seemed to have a layer of crushed nuts in the middle rather than just layers of pastry, and sported a tiny little puffed pillow of pastry on top. Not sure if this is standard practice or because of the birthday cards on the table, but definitely a nice finish to the meal.
The decor is really lovely: all Mediterranean blues and whites, with a small waterfall fountain near our table by the front, and music that could be Iranian pop/jazz or something else entirely. Unfortunately, because of the rain, we didn’t have a chance to smoke the hookah on the patio; I remember smoking a mild, apple-flavoured tobacco through a 3-foot-high hookah in Dubai and was looking forward to repeating the experience, even though I don’t smoke.
Discovered via blogTO.