New York City is deservedly celebrated for its diversity of cuisine drawing influences from all over the world, but one of the most underrepresented cuisines is probably from Iran. It’s hard to tell whether that has to do with the often shaky relationship between the U.S. and Iran, but given that there is still sizable Iranian population in the country, it is nonetheless surprising. Nasim Alikhani, who immigrated to New York during the turbulent Iranian revolution, decided at age 59 today to make a bold bet on the beauty of her home country’s food, opening Sofreh earlier this year in the Prospect Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn. Ever since its opening, Sofreh is one of the hardest tables to get although the restaurant’s website noted there are seatings available for walk-ins. My wife Jun and I were supposed to have a dinner with another couple and I took this as an opportunity to see if we can try the Persian dishes at the restaurant. There was in fact a separate basement dining area available strictly for walk-ins so we had no problem getting seated right away when we showed up at the restaurant’s opening hour (6 p.m.). Overall, the dishes at Sofreh were pretty delicious, and there were a couple of stunners.
The menu at Sofreh consists of starters, dishes from “greens & grains” section and main, followed by desserts. Like any other Middle Eastern country, you’ve got to start your meal with some spreads. I’m not generally an eggplant person, but the eggplant spread with grilled eggplant, caramelized onions, yogurt, walnut and mint was a thing of beauty. The smoky feel of the eggplant was quite addictive and the overall flavor of the spread was wonderfully complex with other hearty ingredients. The two yogurt dips (one with Persian shallots and another with spinach) were also solid but it was clear that the eggplant spread was really the star of the show. We also tried the beef tongue “sandwich” with mini wheat pita bread, which I didn’t love that much because of the tough texture of the beef tongue, although others in the party really liked it. The secret to having a great meal at Sofreh is to order dishes with a side of saffron basmati rice. I found it hard to believe how the rice could add so much, but it is true. The saffron flavor of the rice wonderfully complemented the three main dishes that we shared together.
The best of the night was the half chicken that was more or less perfectly moist and had Persian plum and saffron sauce, along with barberries, to add a nice balanced flavor. The braised lamb shank was also delicious with its onion and turmeric broth, crispy onions, fava beans and roasted garlic where the spices neutralized the potentially gamey feel of the lamb. The catch of the day (we had grouper for the evening) with traditional fresh herb and tamarind sauce was also serviceable but it felt the sauce was more memorable than the fish. For the desserts, definitely try the ice cream with saffron, rosewater and pistachio flavor; I don’t know why I don’t have saffron enough in my life, but the ice cream certainly reminded me how this spice can make anything you eat delicious. The saffron rice pudding with almonds and cinnamon was also delightful without being too sweet.
As noted above, you won’t get a reservation at Sofreh unless you book way in advance. If you are looking to walk in, just show up during the opening hours and try your luck at the basement dining area, which is actually quieter than the main dining space above and has a bright light and white wall and ceilings that can make for a festive dinner for large groups of people. There is full bar with cocktails inspired by spices used in Persian cuisine; I suggest you try at least one of these before moving on to wines. Sofreh is a very good neighborhood restaurant with a modern take on Persian cuisine that will show how versatile the food from the still relatively unknown country (outside of geopolitics and oil) is. While I don’t have any plans to visit Iran anytime soon, it certainly makes me appreciate the country’s heritage and appeal.
KenScale: 8.0/10 (Jun’s Score: 8.0/10)
- Creativity: 8.5/10
- Execution: 8.0/10
- Ingredients: 8.0/10
- Flavor: 8.5/10
- Texture: 8.0/10
- Value: 8.0/10
Address: 75 Saint Marks Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11217
Telephone: (646) 340-0322