Persian Throwdown: Parisa vs. Tehran Restaurant
Tehran Restaurant has long been the go-to restaurant for both abundant Persian take-out and affordable in-house dining, but now Verdun's Parisa, sweeps in with a slightly more sophisticated and an even more delicious take on traditional Iranian fare - spinach noodle soup, marinated chicken and beef kebabs, eggplant dip, pita bread, barberrie (a red currant- or cranberry-like dried fruit) saffron basmati rice, and braised lamb shanks with dilled lima bean rice.
1. Noodle soup can be deliciously slimy
2. Basmati rice is actually supposed to have a flavour
3. Everything tastes better with pomegranate walnut sauce.
Critieria: Best rice, kebab, soup, eggplant/vegetable, sauce, price, quantity, and quality
Winner: ParisaThere are reasons to go to both of these restaurants. You go to Tehran for huge portions of good food at a good price. It's a "no bells and whistles" type of place, and if you've never had Persian food before, it's a good way to become initiated. But if you go to Parisa first, Tehran might be a bit of a letdown.
Best Rice: Parisa
Really, you could come here just for the rice. The Chef tried to convince me it had fewer calories than other rice, but I think that's hooey. I think the only way I can believe this is if what he really meant was that because the rice was fluffy there was more air in it, so you eat less rice (more air) per portion. The rice is cooked with oil, adding calories and (healthy) fat, so it's still very good for you, and the oil brings out the flavour of the rice, as well as keeping the grains separate, thus fluffier. It's all about washing the rice thoroughly to remove the polish (this also keeps the rice kernels apart), soaking, boiling, and then steaming it to inject it with air.
This is the highest quality, most naturally-flavourful Basmati rice in Montreal, I'm convinced. That's a completely ungrounded statement, by the way, but I believe it. The Chef brings it in to Montreal from Toronto, since it isn't distributed here. Sorry folks, you can't get it very easily. Guess you'll just have to go to Verdun. That's not so hard.
Tehran's rice (top photo, top right) was a bit dry and tasted like what you probably think rice tastes like until you've tried Parisa's. Both are mixes of plain basmati rice and saffron-infused rice (real saffron at both places, not turmeric, which is often used as a cheaper substitute) topped with barberries (I don't think they're expensive since you get a ton of them at Tehran. They do seem, however, very exotic). Then you fluff up the rice with a fork to mix the orange of the saffron rice with the white of the basmati and the red of the barberries. You can call yourself an artist for a meal.
Best Kebab: Parisa
The chicken is a tough call, but the beef and lamb were better at Parisa than at Tehran. The Jooge Sulanti at Tehran came with a huge ground beef kebab, a huge chicken kebab, a mountain of saffron rice, and an almost grilled tomato.Tehran Beef and Chicken Kebabs
The beef was decently tender but had a bitter aftertaste of garlic powder. The same dish at Parisa had a kebab of lamb and beef that was a bit fresher and fattier (fat = flavour), and I liked the lemon infusing the marinated chicken. Oh, and the tomato was charred, so it squirted a little more easily over the saffron barberrie rice. In rice dishes without barberrie you squeeze a grilled tomato over to season. That's a messy operation. Up there with soup dumplings.
Best Soup: Parisa
Called Ghorme sabzi, this soup is more than enough for lunch at either restaurant. At Parisa it's loaded with rich broth, leek, beans, spinach and dill. There are a few, thick, slippery noodles lying somewhere under the artistic pool of olive oil layered on top. It was garnished with fresh parsley and spiced walnuts that should have been refreshed in a skillet to add some crunch. The spice wasn't overwhelming, being neither hot nor salty, but added a little (extra) richness to the soup.At Tehran Restaurant the herbs seemed a little dead, and instead of walnuts you got about a cup of battered fried onions. Fried onions are a delicacy but the batter on these is a bit off-putting - a little too reminiscent of bad onion rings than what you'd see garnishing delicate rice dishes such as pullao. The yogurt was perfectly tangy, though, and cut through the richness of the oily broth, so every mouthful had a nice combination of flavours and textures. This was certainly not just "filler" soup, AND both restaurants make the broths from scratch.
Parisa's Ghorme Sabzi was better for 3 simple reasons - it was smokier, less tomato paste-y and canned tomato-y, and had a chunkier texture that was better for dipping and chewing. Both were dripping in oil, and I couldn't find the supposed egg in the Tehran version, though it's there apparently, making it not okay for vegans. At Tehran the orange dip came with another pile of sort-of-crispy onions and cold pita bread that had appeared at the beginning of the meal with sliced raw onion and little containers of whipped butter. The warm, fresh pita at Parisa is probably another reason they win this category.
There are other vegetables in Persian cooking besides eggplant, but I don't think mushrooms are generally one of them. The Chef at Parisa used to work in a downtown Montreal hotel and lets some of his Western European training influence show with his sautÃ©ed mushrooms with lime and a pomegranate reduction. Wait...lime and pomegranate? The pomegranate reduction was very similar to a balsamic reduction you'll see in every French and Italian restaurant ever, but a little more fruity. It was a nice change, though subtle. There also wasn't much of it. There was, however, a whole lot of lime. Usually it's lemon in Persian food, and the lime in this dish was a bit overwhelming but I liked it. My dining companion didn't. He didn't like the lemon in everything else much either, though. I guess it's an acquired taste. Anyway, the whole button mushrooms absorbed a ton of oil and were incredibly juicy without being soggy, and the whole fusion idea came together with the mild sweetness of the finely chopped deep-fried garlic on top (no onion rings here).
Then a strange thing happened. I ordered the chicken in a tomato sauce ($14) at Tehran that came with barberrie rice. First the plate of rice came and then a second plate came with this enormous chicken breast - enough for a large family. I am not a large family. I am barely a small family of one. Anyway, the chicken basically fell apart when I touched it with my fork but somehow it was still tough. How does this happen? After leaving it in the tomato sauce in my fridge for a couple days it relaxed a little and the rigor mortis eased off, but at the restaurant I was baffled.
At Parisa the chicken ("Fessenjoun") with walnut and pomegranate sauce was a bit chewy but the Chef had to use breasts instead of thighs that night and didn't have time to marinate them. When your restaurant isn't popular (yet) because no one knows about it, I guess it's hard to get the turnover you need to keep everything stocked and prepped.
Parisa's pomegranate walnut sauce stole the show. It didn't matter that the chicken wasn't ridiculously tender. At first the sauce seemed sweet and sour from pomegranate and lemon, and then the slight bitterness of the walnuts kicked in.
When I tried the side salad (another European influence I guess?) I figured the dressing was another pomegranate-lemon combo. Or maybe balsamic had sneaked in after all? Wrong. It was tamarind-based. Take that, Italy.
The tomato sauce on the above-mentioned oversized, tender-but-not-tender chicken breast at Tehran was pretty lacklustre. It was mostly fat from the chicken's pan juices and a little lemon - simple and respectable, but not as addictive as pomegranates and walnuts.
Price, Quantity, and Quality: Tehran, Tehran, Parisa
You get more food for your money at Tehran, but not by much, and you definitely don't get as high quality a meal. For $6 you can get the eggplant appetizer, or pay $16 for the same thing served as a main course (a dip as a main? The app was already huge! They'd have to bring out a salad bowl of the stuff to make it worth $16...). At Parisa the significantly smaller but flavour-packed version of the same goes for just $4.95. It's actually an appetizer, though a rich one.
At Tehran the addictive, slurpy soup is included when you purchase a main, and at Parisa it's a dollar extra.
Jooge Sulanti (the beef and chicken kebab plate) is $22.50 at Tehran. It gives you way more rice than the similarly priced, but less protein and carb-crazy version at Parisa, but you don't get the amazing rice and you don't get to try the tamarind dressing. I know most people don't get as excited about salad as I do, but try it for yourself and let me know what you think. Just the chicken kebab and rice is $18.
So Tehran specializes in home-style, stewed, naturally-flavoured dishes. That's why you should also get the lamb shank (Baghalie Polo Mahicke) here on Thursdays. It's served with traditional fava beans and dilled rice. I'd order the tough, over-salted version of the lamb shank at Parisa again, though ($17.95), just to get the lima bean and dilled rice that was actually epiphanal...as far as rice goes, I mean. Here it goes a little further than the average rice.
So for an affordable, casual-gourmet dining experience you want Parisa, and for mountains of rice and pretty good heaps of kebabs and meats for not cheap, but a tiny bit less expensive, you can go with Tehran...no, really you should just go to Parisa. Since it's in Verdun the prices are $10 cheaper than what they could be paying at a similar (or lower quality) downtown restaurant. Tehran, next to Vendome metro, is also cheaper than downtown, but I wouldn't really call it fine dining. Parisa is verging on that title, and it'll only cost you $20-$30 including all taxes and tip for a full meal. And it's BYOB.
Hours: 11:30am-11:30pm, daily
Expect To Pay: $18-$30 including tax, tip and a full meal with soup
5065 Boulevard de Maisonneuve West
Hours: lunch and dinner, I think everyday but Sunday but call for reservations so they know someone's coming and can braise and marinade things in anticipation of your arrival
Expect To Pay: $20-$30 per person including tax and tip (no wine cost since it's BYOB)
4123 rue de Verdun