NM Chowhounds may remember Pars Diner from its strip mall days. A mom-and-pop run by the Tafti family since 1984, it featured Mediterranean food with some Persian specialties. It was inexpensive, friendly, delicious, and usually pretty busy.
In August 2000, the Taftis took a sabbatical, and planned to open up a more upscale restaurant, Pars Cuisine. Initially they said it would be open in March 2001, but things were delayed.
I am delighted to report that Pars Cuisine is open, and it's wonderful! Mr. Tafti told me they're just finishing their second month in business, so this probably isn't news to some of you (we couldn't get in last night and there was quite a steady crowd today for Saturday lunch). I just learned of it, though, so my wife and I headed over for dinner last night.
We couldn't get in! Every table was full, and so was the waiting area. We punted and went back for lunch today.
Well, it was great. The new space (in an office park along the I-25 frontage road, just S of the Century Rio theaters - accessible from Jefferson) is large and wonderfully decorated. There is a popular center area where folks are seated on cushions around a fountain, and surrounding private-feeling Western-style tables with chairs. The decor is comfortably classy, and combines modern style with a Middle Eastern feel - without being tacky. It would be a fine "date" restaurant. Service is prompt and attentive; if you need a refill of iced tea or water, it comes to you in a fresh glass and the old one is whisked away. You feel comfortable taking your time over the different courses and relaxing with coffee after eating.
True to the Middle Eastern them, the owner, Mr. Tafti, came over a couple of times to greet us and ask how we were doing. His hospitality was gracious but not oppressive. He told us that he's been getting consistently good press on the new restaurant, and that it's consistently quite busy on Friday and Saturday nights (apparently they have a belly dancer those nights). From what I saw, it's pretty hopping on Saturday for lunch as well. Mr. Tafti said he has had lots of returning customers and lots of new folks brought in by the favorable press he's been getting and the convenient location (easy access from Heights or Valley - apparently folks from SF have been coming down just for a meal and then hopping the freeway home again).
Anyway, on to the food. Gina and I started out with a dolmathes (stuffed grape leaves) appetizer ($2.95), an iced tea ($1.55), a glass of Chardonnay ($3.50), and a Moretti pilsner ($4.00 - tho the menu said $4.25). The six rolled grape leaves are my favorite in town - just like the old Pars Diner - firm enough to give some tug to your teeth, but moist enough to come apart with your bite. The sour and oily lime sauce compliments them perfectly.
We moved on to an appetizer of falafel (no falafel appetizer on the menu - there's a dinner for $8.95 and a lunch special for $4.95 - I think she charged us $3.00 for the special request appetizer) - crisp with a hint of cumin on a bed of greens with a subtle dipping sauce. Gina ordered sultani (a skewer of filet mignon - you can sub chicken breast - and a second skewer of seasoned ground beef cooked over open fire and served with grilled tomato and basmati rice) for $14.95, and I got a gheymeh stew (sauteed beef and split peas cooked together in tomato sauce and topped with miniature fried potato string, also served with basmati rice) for $7.95. Then we shared.
The gheymeh stew was wonderful: full of small pieces totally lean beef steak in a flavorful tomato/ hard pea (think lentil)/tarragon sauce. The beef tenderloin of the sultani was the best part of our entrees: it had been marinated in lime juice (and maybe onions) and was flash-cooked just right. The ground beef skewer was also very tasty - no complaints at all - but it couldn't outshine the filet! The sultani meat was served with a chopped parsley and onion salsa and a juicy roasted tomato - eating it all together with the rice was a perfect experience.
The basmati rice also must be discussed. What a fabulous plate of rice! Lightly coated with butter (? - I'm pretty sure it was butter) to keep the grains separate, served with a crowning section of saffron rice that sufficed (when mixed in with the rest of the rice) to infuse the delicate spice flavor throughout the pilau. Wonderful!
We topped the meal off (God, were we full!) with a turkish coffee ($2.55) and a dish of spectacular halva ($1.55). (The waitress brought a dessert tray over - we ordered the halva w/o knowing the price. We figured it would be c. $5, but, what the heck - it would cost $7 in Santa Fe. Man, were we surprised to see $1.55 show up on the bill. That's the best dessert deal I've had in years!)
Total bill for 2 of us, off the dinner menu (no lunch menu on Saturday - average weekday lunch price looked to be $5-6), with us ordering every dang thing we wanted, was $44.44. Out the door with tip for $53.00. Now, I know that's pretty heavy for lunch, but we were acting out of frustration for having missed dinner the night before - that's exactly what we would have had for dinner. I felt Pars Cuisine offers an amazing experience for the money, from the lovely atmosphere and service to the amazingly delicious food. I'm attaching a link to their webpage (I learned they had a webpage during today's restaurant visit), and encouraging any New Mexican with a hankering to try some Persian food to give the Taftis a visit. Good chow, and good folks!