If you have eaten at Sofreh, the 4-year-old Persian restaurant in a Brooklyn brownstone, chances are you know its mast-o musir, a yogurt dip. The first things you see are chips of dried musir, the Iranian wild shallot, prized for its courtly but distinct whiff of garlic. Underneath this is a bed of musir-enriched yogurt. It has a richness that puts you in mind of custard and a sour streak that makes your mouth water.
One of the original chefs at Sofreh, Ali Saboor, recently opened his own Persian restaurant in Brooklyn. Its name is Eyval, its neighborhood is Bushwick and its yoghurt is even more delicious.
Eyval has its own spin on mast-o musir, topped with some pickled musir in a spicy pool of turmeric oil. But the restaurant’s greater contribution toward advancing the cause of yoghurt in New York City lies in Saboor’s reconsideration of another yoghurt dip, or class of dips, called the borani.
A typical borani involves folding cooked eggplant or another vegetable into strained yogurt. The vegetables in Eyval’s boranis tend to be some seasonal treat, like grilled fiddleheads in brown butter or small, spring-green fava beans slicked with mint oil, and they are not mixed into the yoghurt. They rest on top of it, in a little hollow, like the pothole I make in my mashed potatoes on Thanksgiving so the gravy will have somewhere to go.
Concentrating the vegetables in the center means that any given swipe of bread into the borani will dredge up a fair amount of pure, undiluted yogurt, which can be appreciated on its own terms. I have enjoyed many yoghurt dips in my life, but the boranis at Eyval may be the first yogurt dips toward which I’ve felt something like desire.
I mention this not just because I hope you will try a borani at Eyval, but also because it illustrates some of the ways Saboor has expanded on the Persian themes he first explored at Sofreh.
There, he started by helping Nasim Alikhani, an owner, adapt the stews, fragrant platters of basmati rice and other recipes that had made invitations to her house much sought after by friends. He had cooked in restaurants; she hadn’t. At Eyval, which opened in March with financial backing from Theodore Petroulas, Alikhani’s husband and her partner in Sofreh, Saboor turns his attention from the home to the streets, particularly the grilled kebabs eaten across Iran.
A follow-up restaurant focused on street food might suggest a simpler menu, easier recipes, more limited flavours. None of that applies at Eyval. The portions are generally small; a single skewer makes a serving. But behind each plate is an understanding of the ways Persian ingredients like black lime and barberries create little detonations of flavor, as well as a sure sense of when a few drops of rosewater will cast the right spell and when the high-pitched sourness of unripe grapes is just the thing.
Eyval’s chicken kebab is no mere stick of meat. It is a re-imagining of zereshk polo morgh, the reliable combination of basmati rice, stewed chicken and barberries that has pacified hungry guests at countless Persian dinner parties. The grill puts crisp golden skin on the chicken, and the scent of smoke. On top are the fried onions and tart little dried barberries and underneath is a chicken-tomato broth, aromatic with saffron. All the right things are there, down to the separate plate of rice, but they come together in new ways.
The koobideh, on the other hand, is undeniably a stick of meat. But what meat it is. Saboor grinds lamb shoulder and beef brisket, a fatty cut many chefs rely on to produce a self-basting burger. Minimally seasoned, it makes an unusually tender, almost delicate kebab.
Then there is the mushroom kebab. It is not meat, nor is it served on a stick, but it may be the most interesting thing on the menu. King trumpet mushrooms are grilled until they are as caramelised and juicy as sea scallops. They are paired with pickled beech mushrooms, and both are tied together by a creamy stew of beluga lentils. From these thoroughly earthy elements, Saboor has built something elegant.
The setting is a graffiti-scrawled corner building next to a vintage clothing shop. Facing the restaurant, across a parking lot, is Roberta’s, which first brought this brand of dynamic, ingredient-conscious small plates to the area. Until last month, the Eyval people ran a Persian teahouse next door, Sofreh Cafe, where very fine baked goods such as glazed pirashki filled with rosewater custard would materialise throughout the day.
Some of these items survived the cafe. On certain nights a meal at Eyval could start with a small loaf of komaj, vaguely sweet and dotted with cumin seeds. There is almost always barbari, the essential Persian flatbread, a long, grooved oval with sesame and nigella seeds embedded in its crackling crust. Among other things, barbari is an ideal implement for scooping up yoghurt.
The kitchen, organised around two charcoal-burning grills, sits between Eyval’s two dining rooms like a hinge. One room has a cocktail bar, and the other has a blank wall on which an old concert by exiled Iranian pop star Googoosh is usually being projected. Both rooms are covered in subway tiles and can be numbingly loud when full, which they often are. And, like many restaurants now, Eyval sometimes falls short of its service goals, so your experience at the table may not come up to the standards set by the cooking crew. — NYT