If you aren't really hungry before arriving at Pomegranate, you certainly will be once you step inside and get enveloped with aromas of basmati rice, cumin, cinnamon, and nuts.
The space is small, but the owners have done their best to include all the decorative elements you would expect in a Persian restaurant, including a tiny (but empty) tile reflection 'pool', cushion seating for those who don't want to dine on tables and chairs, hand-woven rugs hanging from the walls, and large ornate tea urns. When combined with the aromas, you do kind of forget the hustle and bustle of College Street outside.
The menu is Persian; there are no attempts at fusion cuisine nor do they pad the menu with 'Canadian' alternatives for picky eaters. It's all Persian all the time. If you are not familiar with Persian food, there are apt descriptions on the menu of each dish and some of the ingredients they use to make it.
I was there with two others, and we all got the (correct) impression, based on the menu descriptions, that the main dishes were rather substantial-sized portions so we went really light on the appetizers. We ordered the eggplant puree, which was served with barbary flatbread. The puree had a rich smokey flavour which perfectly balanced the mild sweetness of the eggplants. Definitely different (in a good way) from the generic babaghannouj you find elsewhere in the city.
For the main dish, I ordered the fesenjaan, which is a stew of chicken (mushrooms if you want the vegetarian version) with walnuts, cinnamon, and pomegranate. It was served with a big helping of basmati rice (they even gave me the crispy rice from the bottom of the pot - yum!), shirazi salad, and homemade yogurt.
The fesenjaan was not overly sweet despite all the sweet ingredients. The flavours were very well-balanced, and the spices not overpowering. The texture of the yogurt on the side was silky and creamy, and provided a nice tart contrast to the sweetness of the fesenjaan. The shirazi salad was disappointing... it was one small pile each of diced tomatoes, cucumber, and onion. Typically, the diced tomatoes, cucumber, and onion would be tossed together, along with some mint and lime juice.
Both my compadres had the lamb shank special, which was a braised shank served with basmati rice, shirazi salad, and mixed torshi (pickles). They enjoyed their dishes, but made the same comments about the shirazi salad. I snuck a bite of the torshi and it was VERY good!
For dessert, I ordered a mint tea, but was disappointed with it came in an Ikea mug and in the form of a generic tea bag. I was expecting a crystal (or at least glass) tea glass with fresh mint leaves. One of my dining partners decided on the baklava. One overly-refrigerated piece arrived at the table, quite dry, without the customary buttery syrupy stickiness that makes baklava such a delightful treat.
Overall, we enjoyed our dinner, although we would recommend having dessert elsewhere. The owners have made an honest effort to give their customers as authentic an experience as possible, and for the most part, they succeed. And considering the utter lack of decent Persian restaurants in the downtown core, I would definitely return to Pomegranate when I get cravings for fesenjaan.
Pomegranate is located on College (north side), between Spadina and Bathurst. **Bring cash. They do not yet accept credit/debit cards.
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