Zeitoon Restaurant and Grill House (Persian Restaurant)

Restaurant: Zeitoon Restaurant and Grill House
Cuisine: Persian/Middle Eastern/Halal
Last visited: November 24, 2012
Phone: (604) 899-0700
Location: Vancouver, BC (Robson Street/West End)
Address: 1795 Pendrell Street
Price Range: $10-20+ (Mains $10-17)

1Poor 2OK 3Good 4Very good 5Excellent 6FMF Must Try!

Food: 4 (based on what I tried)
Service: 3.5
Ambiance: 2.5
Value: 3.5
Overall: 4
Additional comments:

  • 2 locations
  • Persian owned/operated
  • Traditional Persian cuisine
  • Specializes in kabobs
  • Meat/seafood
  • Vegetarian options
  • Very casual
  • Affordable
  • Family friendly
  • Daily specials
  • Licensed
  • Catering available
  • Mon – Thurs:, 12:00 pm – 10:00 pm
  • Fri – Sat: 12:00 pm – 11:00 pm

**Recommendations: Kashke Bademjan, Koobideh Kabab

Sweet. I can’t explain the satisfaction I get when I go into an ethnic restaurant and I’m the only one that’s not of that ethnicity or nationality. It just makes the place seem more “authentic” and legit. I kind of cheated here though. I didn’t discover this on my own. I was introduced to this restaurant by my Persian friend who claims to have tried almost every Persian restaurant in West/North Vancouver (that’s where most of them are). Perhaps not a “foodie”, my friend is more than familiar with the cuisine and still claims that nothing in Vancouver will be as good as it is in Iran, or at home, cooked by mom. Go figure. That’s perhaps the most typical saying I hear from anyone that comes from any culture outside of North America.

When it comes to ethnic cuisine I have to always refer back to the word “authentic”. To me any cuisine outside of where it originated from will never truly be “authentic” since the ingredients are different. That, and food history is so grey sometimes I don’t know what to believe and almost anything is arguable. Global ingredients can be hard to source and local ingredients just taste different so to replicate that exact “flavour from home” is near impossible or simply pointless. Therefore what matters in cases like this is whether it was good and made with good ingredients, and whether or not there is better.

Obviously I am not Persian and I am no expert in Persian cuisine. On the other hand it doesn’t take an American to know American food, so that doesn’t even matter. I do however always make an effort to go to ethnic restaurants with a person who understands that food and culture better than I would. Then I’ll follow up with my own research.

In this case it is best to use this post as a rough guideline and part introduction to Persian cuisine. It is simply my experience getting to know it better. At the same time I don’t want to take away from how good Zeitoon is and much of the Persian community calls it “a good standard for traditional Persian food”.

Zeitoon has two locations and the original one is in North Vancouver. The location downtown isn’t as popular as the North Vancouver one which is always busy with a line up, but it’s still frequented by the Persian community. When I say “Persian community” I mean it. It’s a close knit community and I felt like everyone knew everyone except for me. It was great!

It was casual and approachable and ordering isn’t intimidating even if you have no idea what you’re doing. The staff are helpful and for the most part Persian food is similar to Greek food. I probably upset some Persians and Greeks by saying that, but it is the easiest and most commonly made comparison although not completely accurate.

I consider Denman a great neighbourhood for ethnic eats, mom and pop restaurants and casual eateries with the exception of 3-4 nicer restaurants (Kingyo, Espana, Kobachi, Damso, and Le Parisien). While there are certainly some tourist traps and restaurants to avoid, Zeitoon is not one of them.

If you’re looking for an introduction to Persian cuisine or just good Persian cuisine that isn’t fast food then welcome to Zeitoon. It’s reliable. While there could be better at an upscale level of dining, Zeitoon is great value and satisfying for someone very familiar, but not particularly that picky with Persian food (or at least has accepted the standards for it in Vancouver). It is also satisfying for someone who has had it maybe a dozen times in her life (restaurant and home cooked versions of it) – and that would be me.

On the table:

Doogh3/6 (Good)

  • Traditional yogurt drink with mint, prepared in house $2.45
  • Woohoo! Progress! Look at that! 3/6! *High five*
  • I’m so glad I’m living up to my “try it until you like it” policy, and low and behold I have now accepted Doogh.
  • My first time trying it was at Yaas Bazaar and I gave it a 1.5/6.
  • It was acquired, salty and a bit unexpected, so I didn’t like it.
  • This time around it was better and better quality and I drank half a glass.
  • It’s a salty thin yogurt drink with dried mint and it’s more salty and tart than it is sweet.
  • I didn’t find it sweet at all and typically it should have carbonated water in it, but this wasn’t fizzy and didn’t seem carbonated.
  • Sometimes it has cumin seeds in it, but I couldn’t taste it in this and it’s not that minty either.
  • It’s almost like a plain unsweetened yogurt thinned out with water.
  • It’s not a drink I would crave or have to have yet, but I don’t mind it.
  • It’s a refreshing drink that is meant to cool you down in the summer.

Complimentary Flatbread

  • Rice is the staple in Persian cuisine, but bread is a close second and also very important.
  • The four basic Iranian/Persian flatbreads (naan) which are:
    • Barbari
      • Thick and soft, slightly chewy with a bun like interior.
      • It’s a oval shaped and leavened white Persian flatbread studded with sesame seeds that’s best served warm.
      • Good with feta, soft cheese, dips and commonly served at breakfast.
    • Lavash
      • Middle Eastern cracker bread that is either hard and cracker like or soft like a tortilla.
      • It’s thin and long, available in white or whole wheat, and used for wraps and dips.
    • Sangak
      • Iran’s national bread.
      • Rectangular, oblong or triangular whole wheat stone baked Iranian flatbread.
      • It’s about two feet long and sometimes it comes with sesame seeds on top.
      • It’s good with cheese and kebobs and is better toasted.
    • Taftoon/Taftan
      • A leavened whole wheat round flatbread that is soft, flexible, stretchy and chewy.
      • It is very thin and flat and good for dips and soups.
      • It is thicker than lavash, but when toasted it also becomes cracker like.
  • The most typical flatbread served with dips is probably Naan Lavash Bread, but this was pita so I didn’t get any of the above.
  • Pita is typical in Iran as well, but I would have preferred one of the other flatbreads.
  • The pita was served room temperature with a ¼ of a wrapped raw onion and packaged butter.
  • You can eat the pita with the butter, but the butter can also be used to melt into the rice.

Mast-o Moosir DIP4/6 (Very good)

  • A delicious yogurt dip flavored with chopped shallots $4.95
  • This was basically plain unsweetened yogurt with minced shallot, but it was strained so it was thicker like Greek yogurt.
  • You have to add salt to it, but you eat it with the pita. This was very simple.

You can also top the pita with a slice of raw onion and then dip it into the yogurt.

**Kashke Bademjan5/6 (Excellent)

  • Deep fried eggplant, mashed and topped with Kashk (whey); flavored with sauteed onions, garlic and fresh mint $6.95
  • I freaking love this dish and it’s one of my favourite Persian dips.
  • I could eat it by itself with just a spoon, but it is supposed to be enjoyed with warm lavash flatbread.
  • It was a bit on the oily side, but the texture is creamy and silky with stewed eggplant and onions.
  • It is a warm dip and you have to love eggplant to appreciate this.
  • The flavours are really hard to describe, but the predominant flavour is a bit sour and bright.
  • It tastes like garlicky eggplant stewed with tangy yogurt, but that is actually the Kashk (whey) and not yogurt.
  • Kashk (whey) is almost like sour cream meets feta (if it were liquid) and perhaps even tahini in flavour.
  • It has a cheesy savoury and sour quality and in the dip it gave it a hummus like characteristic, but it is not starchy and just creamy.
  • It takes on a yellow colour from turmeric and it is aromatic, but not from any additional spices. Tumeric is the only spice.
  • It was drizzled with more whey and mint, but I couldn’t even taste the mint.
  • It was also topped with caramelized onions and garlic which were a bit fried so it gave it a nutty aromatic sweetness which I love.
  • Sometimes chopped walnuts are added for richness, but this one didn’t have any. I actually like it better with the walnuts though.
  • I had this at Yaaz Bazaar as well, but this was better made and nicer in presentation.
  • This can get even better home made, but if you don’t have that connection then this will have to do. This is considered a very good one though.
  • See a modernist interpretation for this dish here.

Persian Basmati Rice

  • Persian style Basmati rice with saffron
  • In Persian cuisine it’s all about the rice. It’s not a Persian meal without rice.
  • It is almost always served like this at Persian restaurants, but if you find a place offering Tah-dig, then order it.
  • Tah-dig is a Persian rice dish with a crispy and crunchy top. It gets this caramelized and toasted layer from the bottom of the pan and that is the best part.
  • Asian cuisine also have versions of this rice dish e.g.: the clay pot in Chinese cuisine and the stone bowl for Korean cuisine (the crunchy rice that gets stuck to the bottom of the pots and bowls are what people fight over).

The rice will always come with either Sumac or Advieh (Persian spice mix). The red seasoning is dehydrated Sumac (sour berry that grows in the Mediterranean) and it’s pretty much “Persian salt”. It’s not salty at all, but sour (like pomegranate seeds or cranberries) and you sprinkle it over your rice or kebobs because it’s good for digestion. It gets really addicting like salt and I could have it over popcorn. It makes everything taste a bit sour, and oddly it will also make it more savoury because your saliva glands will go from the tartness.

I’ve never done this before and it’s not exactly healthy, but some Persians will melt the butter into the rice. The idea isn’t shocking, but it’s dangerously good. If you’re eating out anyway, then what’s a little more butter… ?

**Chenjeh Soltani Kabob – 4/6 (Very good)

  • A Combination of 1 skewer Chenjeh Kabob and 1 skewer Koobideh. $14.95
  • Kebobs are another staple in Persian cuisine and every Persian restaurant has to serve them.
  • Typically they are served over rice and not pita, but in this case there was a request to serve the rice separately.
  • The meats are pretty good quality and they could get better, but for this price I think it is fine. It wasn’t mystery meat or “fast food Persian meat”.
  • The standard sides to kebobs are always a broiled tomato, lemon or lime, bell peppers, and onions (which can be spicy).
  • I wish they served it with better quality olives though since the name of the restaurant is “Zeitoon” which means olive in Persian.

**Koobideh Kabob5/6 (Excellent)

  • A Persian signature! 2 skewers of premium ground Beef, seasoned with onions and spices, broiled to perfection. ($9.95 if you order it by itself)
  • This was my favourite and apparently most non-Persians like this one best too.
  • It is the standard kabob and a soft kebob made with minced meat as opposed to chunks of meat.
  • It was the most tender and juicy and it was almost like meatloaf or meatballs on a skewer.
  • The ground beef wasn’t that lean or fatty (typically it is 80% lean meat, 20% fatty) and it had good flavour.
  • It was a bit sausage like and I could taste the grated onions and the mixture could have been bound with eggs, but it wasn’t obvious and didn’t seem like it.
  • A good Koobideh with the right composition of meats and proper execution shouldn’t need egg.
  • Sometimes there maybe breadcrumbs in it too, but I didn’t notice any in this one.
  • It was very mildly spiced with perhaps turmeric or Sumac (sour) spice and there was a tanginess and red tinge to it, but it’s not spicy.
  • I could barely pick out any spices and it is very natural and simple in flavour, but it was still well seasoned and delicious.
  • Typically there is no garlic in it, but it depends which region of Iran the Koobideh is being made.

Chenjeh Kabob3.5/6 (Good-Very good)

  • Juicy chunks of premium Certified Angus Beef filet mignon marinated in our special sauce and broiled to perfection! ($12.95 if you order it by itself)
  • Usually Chenjah is made with lamb, but here they used beef.
  • If it is a beef recipe it is usually tenderloin or sirloin, but they used filet mignon.
  • It sounds like a better option, but I found it a bit of a waste and tenderloin might have been better.
  • The quality of the meat was pretty good, but it wasn’t “steakhouse quality beef” of course and for the price I think it was fair and expected.
  • This was good, but I prefer filet mignon medium rare and this was pretty much well done so it wasn’t as tender as it could have been.
  • Apparently Iranians like their meats on the medium side of medium-rare, but this was still past medium.
  • The cubes of steak were slightly tough and a bit dry for my liking, but it wash’t bad and still good and edible until it cooled down (then it was noticeable quite dry).
  • The flavour was very simple and mild and I couldn’t pick anything out except for maybe lemon juice and perhaps tomato paste (?).
  • I found the flavours more ordinary along the lines of a Western steak and it had more potential, so I preferred the other kebobs.

Torsh Kabob4/6 (Very good)

  • An authentic kabob Northern Iran. Premium Certified Angus beef filet mignon luxuriously marinated in walnuts, olives, pomegranate, and herbs. $13.95
  • I loved the description of it and I expected to like it the most of the three, but the description was more powerful than the result.
  • It is a Northern Iranian kebab and made of chunks of pure meat so it was basically a steak kebab.
  • The kebob was well coated with this paste like sauce that tasted like a tomato paste meets an olive tapenade.
  • The pomegranate paste/molasses comes off as tomato paste, but there is no tomato paste in this.
  • There were minced shallots, parsley, pomegranate paste/molasses and ground walnuts, but I could only taste the walnuts in texture and it wasn’t that obvious. I almost forgot they were in there.
  • It was a sweet and sour marinade and it held up to the beef quite well.
  • Traditionally it should be more sour and not really sweet, but this one was more tangy and not sour.
  • Considering the ingredients to make the paste it wasn’t too salty or sour and there was good umami (savoury factor) from the olives.
  • It was the sauciest and strongest marinated kebab, but I still liked the soft Koobideh Kebab best.
  • Again it was the cubes of filet mignon which was fully cooked so I wasn’t as keen on it and it got noticeably drier as it cooled down.
  • I still enjoyed it hot and I appreciated it for the sauce more so than the meat.

Akbar Mashti Ice Cream3/6 (Good)

  • Traditional Persian ice cream topped with chocolate & strawberry cream $5.95
  • I love ice cream and I don’t think this one is made in house, but it was still good.
  • It’s not a creamy smooth traditional American ice cream, but it is almost icy in texture.
  • The ice cream is creamy, but then there are also little chunks of frozen cream throughout.
  • These little frozen cream bits are intentional and come across a bit cheesy, but it’s not cheese.
  • It is a bit unusual and could be acquired to a Western palate, but I liked it.
  • This one was barely scented with rose water which I didn’t mind because rose water can get too floral and perfume like.
  • I also couldn’t taste the saffron and I did miss that.
  • The thing I missed the most were the pistachios though. Akbar Mashti is so much better with them.
  • I was brought back to memories of the incredible modern day version of Akbar Mashti that Chef Hamid Salimian made for his Persian New Years Eve Menu.
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