Restaurant review: Noora’s Persian Cuisine

By Columbus Alive
From the October 4, 2012 edition

This week, dear readers, eaters and vicarious culinary adventure-seekers, you’ll be visiting a fanciful and intriguing place where flavors are as familiar as they are strange.

I’m talking about a locale where the commonplace and exotic delightfully wrangle on your plate, and the only thing missing from sitting and supping like a sultan is a pair of pointy slippers. Yes, you’ve guessed it, I’m suggesting you take a trip to a strip mall near Polaris.

Specifically, you’ll be heading to Noora’s Persian Cuisine where you’ll find fresh, healthy and utterly delicious kabobs and dip-propelled regimens that closely resemble what you get at Turkish restaurants. The primary exception is a sumac-starring powder (think mild paprika that tickles your tongue like lime juice), which is used as a major seasoning.

Noora’s is upbeat and cheery inside, with colorful, traditional Persian-style tablecloths and a semi-private, sultanic mini-chamber. You can belly up to knee-high tables while casually relaxing on a low, raised-platform “floor” amidst a flurry of oriental rugs and pillows. As for service, I wouldn’t call it super-efficient, but I would say it’s friendly and helpful while decoding a menu rife with unusual-sounding entries such as Mirza Ghasemi and Mast-o-khiar.

Those two appetizers might be a challenge to pronounce, but they’re easy to eat, and both appear on the highly recommended Noora Platter ($12).

Served with Noora’s dimpled, puffy and toasty house flatbread (like a hybrid between Turkish pide and Middle Eastern pita), the platter’s a four-time winner with its quartet of disparate palate openers.

Its line-up includes the aforementioned Mizra Ghasemi (a smoky, tangy and phenomenal warm dip of roasted tomatoes, garlic and eggplant that converted every eggplant-hater at my table); Mast-o-khiar (a tart, bright and thickish tzatziki-ish blend of yogurt and cucumbers popping with mint); a chunky and almost Russian Olivieh salad (mayo-bound diced potato and egg with effective counterpoints of pickle, leek and green peas); plus a rich, creamy and seriously smooth hummus.

Noora’s killer Grill Platter ($25, feeds two committed bingers) is the kabob analog of the starter sampler. Served with fluffy, saffron-sprinkled basmati rice, house bread and grilled veggies were two skewers of kefta-like beef and chicken logs (Koobideh), sliced steak (Barg), and marinated chicken chunks. All were tender, juicy, attractively charred and zingy with that sumac seasoning.

While that was a standout, the considerably more uncommon Joojeh kabobs ($13) stood even taller. This was another mammoth platter — only of succulent cornish game hens (think chickens shrunk in size, magnified in flavor) — given the same beautiful treatment as above. Though you have to navigate through a few teeny bones in the conveniently disassembled bird pieces, man is it worth it.

The hits continued with an insanely delicious Lamb Shank ($15, plated with a shoulder-shrug of a Greekish salad plus that good rice). Served with a bowl of fragrant roasting juices I would happily down shots of all day, it was a mighty staff of highly aromatic, falling-off-the-bone meat whose deeply developed flavors were partially leavened with a finishing touch of orange. Characteristic of Noora’s terrific fare, it’s like an old favorite enlivened with unexpected flair.