Moonsigns  |  Band Guide  |  Blogs  |  In Pictures  |  Adult
Boston  |  Portland  |  Providence
Features  |  Hot Plate  |  On The Cheap  |  Restaurant Reviews

Persian perfection

Shahnaz struts its stuff
By BRIAN DUFF  |  May 3, 2006

GIVE ME YOUR HUNGRY: Feast for the masses.Recently the readers of the Portland Phoenix voted to name Shahnaz Persian Grille the best Middle Eastern restaurant in Portland. (See "The Best," April 21.) As scholars have noted, there is sometimes wisdom in crowds. At the 1906 West England Fat Stock and Poultry Exhibition 800 visitors guessed the weight of a massive prize ox. Their estimates, when averaged, were off by a single pound. About a century later 120 million Americans guessed whether John Kerry or George W. Bush would be a better president for the next four years. Their estimates, when averaged, said Bush. We need a tiebreaker.

So I headed up Forest Avenue to see if the voters were onto something. As if they had anticipated my experiment in democracy, owners Shahnaz Mahager and Dan Eldert have erected a miniature Statue of Liberty in the parking lot. Along the side of the restaurant they have set up an eclectic patio on a green carpet. Inside, a fountain surrounded by leafy plants dominates one corner — the sound of its trickling mingling with the Persian music. Six small tables topped in cracked blue tile gather in one half of the room. Photos of plated Persian dishes line the counter where you order, and photos of family hang on the wall. This is the immigrant spirit, and as usual it charms. It was a saddening pleasure to regard images from the Tehran of the ’80s, even as our freshly paid tax dollars help the folks who brought us “shock and awe” dream up ways to unleash exterminatory air power upon Tehran’s 2006 incarnation.

Shahnaz and Dan, both short and engaging but nonetheless a bit of an odd couple, noted I was a new customer and immediately offered me samples of several dishes. Very quickly I knew the Phoenix voters were onto something. I am not sure if it is one of the charms or the curses of living in Maine that one must eat so much good food off paper — brunch at Sophia’s, the Lobster Shack, even Scales if I remember correctly (and fondly), and now Shahnaz.

Eventually we ordered a platter with all the appetizers. The best was the hummus, mustard yellow, with oil pooled on top, and a texture almost like baba ganoush. The yellow comes from turmeric, which adds a nice sharpness atop the chickpea, sesame, and garlic. The Bademejan, mostly eggplant and tomato, was both smoky and sweet. It is also offered as an entrée but I think it’s probably best as an appetizer. Dolmeh almost never appeals to me, though a particularly slimy grape leaf sometimes gives the palate a pleasing shock. These were not very slimy.

Fessenjan is a simply lovely word, and at Shahnaz it is a bumpy, nutty, pinkish-beige, lovely dish. The sauce, made primarily from crushed walnuts and pomegranate, covers a plate of saffron basmati rice and semi-pulled chicken. It is a model of subtlety. It hits your palate sweet and then develops a nutty flavor that is just slightly sour.

A Shahnaz Soltani offered two skewers of beef, one steak and one seasoned sirloin. The pieces of steak were tender and perfectly cooked — delicious with just a bit of the seasoned rice. The sirloin was best with the torshi, a sour relish of chopped vegetables, vinegar and spices offered as a side. Our least favorite was the Zereshk Polo, whose grilled chicken was maybe a touch overcooked. But really we liked it just fine, particularly with more liberal application of torshi. The centerpiece of the dish seems to be sour-berry sprinkled saffron-rice, and rice connoisseurs might appreciate it more than we did.

So Shahnaz Persian Grille confirms that democracy works. Which means, I suppose, that we can expect Bush to turn it around any day now. And further, Shahnaz reminds us that immigrants help make this country great — something Bush has been pointing out a lot lately. For our chosen leader, it’s a promising step in the right direction.

Shahnaz Persian Grille | Tuesday-Wednesday 11-8 | Thursday-Saturday 11-9 | 795 Forest Ave, Portland | 207.879.2400 

Email the author
Brian Duff:


  • Finding the Range
    A Portland eatery goes too far, not far enough, and just right
  • Hoosier daddy
    Spooked by Hillary? Evan Bayh could be your man in 2008
  • America Blows
    Since George W. Bush took office, the United States has sunk to unprecedented lows in sports and pop-culture domination
  • More more >
  Topics: Restaurant Reviews , George W. Bush , Food and Cooking , Foods ,  More more >
  • Share:
  • RSS feed Rss
  • Email this article to a friend Email
  • Print this article Print

election special
Share this entry with Delicious
  •   PERSIAN PERFECTION  |  May 03, 2006
    Shahnaz struts its stuff
  •   COLD COMFORT  |  January 12, 2006
    Frozen foods warm the heart
  •   FINDING THE RANGE  |  January 12, 2006
    A Portland eatery goes too far, not far enough, and just right

 See all articles by: BRIAN DUFF

RSS Feed of for the most popular articles
 Most Viewed   Most Emailed 

Tuesday, October 07, 2008  |  Sign In  |  Register
Phoenix Media/Communications Group:
Copyright © 2008 The Phoenix Media/Communications Group