I love eating alone. Take a book, sit for a couple hours, have an expensive meal, a drink … in a hectic work week, it’s a slice of heaven. But I also love eating with a crowd, be it a get-together or an event. And Pars Cuisine, a Persian/Mediterranean restaurant tucked in just off I-25, is definitely the spot for the latter. Pushing through the seemingly typical exterior, you’re transported to an oasis rife with traditional rugs, floor tables with sitting pillows, and draping fabrics—even an indoor fountain. If that doesn’t have you feeling like a sultan, the large and varied menu will. And while we didn’t have any belly dancers during our dinner, they do host them, so call ahead.The meal was a contrast between exotic expectations and the warm comforts of the familiar. In fact, if you think in the right terms, what seems like exotic dining can quickly become a lot more approachable for the average joe diner. Granted, the colonialism of the past has influenced international cuisines but, with the right eyes, dishes that feel scary or exotic at first blush can become less so simply when breaking them down to how they’re made and what they’re made of.When it came to a drink, I went out on a limb. Doogh traditionally comes either carbonated ($3.50) or not ($3.25), and is a savory yogurt-based drink—but not in the American sense. What looks like a glass of cold milk freckled with herbs ends up verging on bitter with the subtlest suggestion of mint and salt. It’s probably not a drink for everyone, but it’s certainly worth trying just to say you have. If it’s sweet you want, or caffeine, take the Turkish coffee ($5)—an espresso-sized sip that is powerful sweet, with serious coffee punch. It comes with a little hunk of Turkish Delight and will surely wake you up in the mornin’.To eat, we started with the Mazeh combination ($15). The greatest hits album of appetizers, it offers seven staples, including: dolmas (stuffed grape leaves), a luscious, garlicky hummus dotted with either saffron or paprika, hunks of a mellow feta and some terrific kalamata olives. There were also a few falafel, and a ramekin of shirazi salad (a bright, cold veggie salad that isn’t unlike pico de gallo), and the yogurty, cucumbery goodness of their mast o khiyar. We were sad to miss out on the kashk o bademjoon, but perhaps it’s the wrong season for eggplant. The whole platter was lined with pita triangles, and it was the perfect amount for the group to start with.The vegetarian fesenjoon ($12) was a thick mash of walnuts and pomegranate, ground down to a paste and dolloped over rice. The tart fruit was a bright, slightly citrus note against the sturdy, buttery protein of the nuts. The portion was more than generous, and a testament to finding big flavors with just a few supplies while still satisfying choosy palates.To avoid having to settle on one or two kababs, we took the Pars kabab feast ($82) — a sampling of five different ones. Skewers of barg (filet mignon), chicken breast, a lamb kabab, plus joojeh kabab (Cornish game hen), and kabab koobideh (maybe skirt steak?) filled a giant tin platter—with loads of rice, grilled onions and bell peppers, tomatoes, all atop a slab of naan that soaked up all the the juices. The generous pilaf of basmati rice had either dried pomegranate seeds, currants or some other tart regional berry, and was plenty for a tableful plus a few leftovers. The lamb was moist and subtle; the filet mignon smoky and paired well with the slight char on the grilled veggies. The chicken breast had some spice but hardly anything a native New Mexican would worry over, and the Cornish game hens shared the taste and texture of the more familiar chicken wing. Everything was delightfully fresh and similar enough to dishes we all knew that no one need fret. Consider our horizons expanded.For dessert, it was halva ($5). Think peanut brittle—only with pistachios instead and a lot less sugar. The earthy flavor of sesame and honey, speckled with raw pistachios gives this dish the right balance of crunchy and chewy and was the perfect end to our meal. It’s a pleasant reminder that dessert doesn’t have to be sugar or chocolate or caramel, and need not simply be some sliced fruit either.The world has relied on a handful of basic ways to add heat to food to prepare meals through the centuries. In the simplest terms, it’s more the regional spices and ingredients than techniques that separate provincial French from, say, American Southern comfort food. Cooking is cooking in many ways. Of course, delicious details are why we eat at new places and try new things. So the next time you and your friends are hungry for anything but the same old thing, step into Pars Cuisine, and step out of the ordinary—comfortable in the knowledge that it’ll probably be a lot more familiar than you thought.
Pars Cuisine4320 The 25 Way NE #100(505) 345-5156http://www.parscuisine.us/Hours: Mon-Thu 11am–9pm, Fri-Sat 11am–10pm, Sun 5pm–9pmVibe: A sultan’s oasis of sitting pillows (and regular tables), draped fabric and even an indoor fountainAlibi Recommends: Turkish coffee, tabouli salad, Pars kabob feast for you and your friends