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Persian Tea Room: Flavors of Silk Road fill Little Neck

By Suzanne Parker

We ordered our appetizers and bided our time, nibbling on the pita with an ultra-spicy chutney that was a ringer for Mexican salsa verde. The appetizers took an inordinately long time to arrive, considering we were the only patrons, and we were becoming cranky.We were contemplating bolting without waiting for our entrees when the appetizers finally arrived. One taste and we changed our tune big time. Thoughts of leaving were replaced by thoughts of “gimme more!” We hasten to mention that once the appetizers arrived, the rest of the meal was appropriately paced. The care of preparation accounted for the initial wait.Persian cuisine is a good example of “geography is destiny.” Its flavorings lie somewhere between Middle Eastern and Indian. This is not at all surprising, for as noted by Najmieh Batmanglij, author and teacher of Persian cooking, “Iran was at the center of the Silk Road connecting China and the Mediterranean. Iran was either the originator or the center of trade for many ingredients and spices such as peaches, almonds, pistachios, saffron, cucumbers, broad beans, peas, spinach and caraway seeds.”We ordered a combination platter of appetizers, which allowed us to sample three. The Spinach Borani was dynamite. It is an appealing mixture of sauteed spinach, yogurt, fried onions and garlic. Very rich and satisfying. You can eat it alone, scoop it up with the pita, or, as we did, dip our Sambooseh, or next treat, into it. Sambooseh are crispy little pastry turnovers (notice the similarity of name to Indian samosas) filled with a delightfully spiced mixture of chick peas and veggies. We rounded out the appetizer platter with Panir Sabzi, a salad of a feta cheese (despite the similarity of the Indian word for cheese, panir, the cheese more closely resembled feta) with watercress and fresh basil. It worked nicely as a more Spartan foil for our other richer choices.The Persian Tea Room has an extensive selection of kebabs and other grilled meats, but we honed in on the ethnic specialties that are unique to Persian cuisine. We tried two of these, one was sweet, the other was tart.Shirin Polo is roast Cornish game hen served with a pilaf of saffron rice, almonds, pistachios, orange strips, carrot strips, rose water and cardamom. The game hen is cut up into easily manageable pieces. The fluffy pilaf combines fruit and nut flavors admirably, but only for those who appreciate a very sweet entree. Abalo Pollo is somewhat along the same lines, comprised of Cornish game hen served with saffron rice mixed with cherries, but not as sweet.Khoresht Gheimeh combines chunks of beef with yellow peas and dried lemon cooked in a special sauce, topped with fried potatoes and served with basmati rice. The pungent flavor of this stew takes a little getting used to for the uninitiated, but is extremely pleasing after the initial surprise. Preserved lemon is a defining flavor of many Persian dishes and it plays a dominant role is this hearty dish. Sumac, another ubiquitous Persian seasoning, is in a shaker on the table. Its tart flavor is especially good on onions and is an ingredient in many Persian dishes. Shake some on your rice, or on anything else that could use a flavor boost.At our dining companion's insistence, we order baklava for dessert. After eating a lot of baklava that was either soggy or bone dry, we have more or less despaired of finding a decent one. We got lucky here. Their baklava was light and crisp without being dry, with a center filled with ground nuts. Perfect! Try it with a traditional Persian tea, redolent with cardamom and rose water. The Bottom Line The Persian Tea room offers a cuisine truly worth exploring. Their prices are modest and they even have great lunch and early bird specials. On Saturday nights they have live music and belly dancing starting at 9 p.m. Put them on your list.Suzanne Parker is the TimesLedger's restaurant critic and author of “Eating Like Queens, a Guide to Ethnic Dining in America's Melting Pot, Queens New York.” She can be reached by e-mail at qnsfoodie@aol.com.Persian Tea Room249-38 Horace Harding Parkway, Little Neck718-631-7676Cuisine: PersianSetting: Large, Persian-influenced handsome spaceService: Friendly and accommodatingHours: Lunch and dinner dailyReservations: Recommended on weekendsAlcohol: Full barParking: Lot in rearDress: CasualChildren: Limited children's menuMusic: Live music and belly dancing Saturdays at 9Takeout: YesCredit cards: YesNoise level: AcceptableHandicap accessible: Yes A Sample from the MenuAppetizer Combination Plate…$11.95Sambooseh…$4.50Lamb Kabab…$14.95Shirin Polo…$14.95Khoresht Gheimeh…$10.00Baklava…$3.50Persian Tea…$1.50

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