Chef Hamid’s Persian Tasting Menu at Diva at the Met – Part 1/3

Update! New chef. This menu and post may no longer apply.

Restaurant: Diva at the Met – Persian Tasting Menu Part 1/3
Cuisine: Pacific Northwest/International/Eclectic/Fine Dining
Last visited: March 15, 2013
Location: Vancouver, BC (Robson/Downtown)
Address: 645 Howe Street (Inside Metropolitan Hotel)
Phone: (604) 602-7788
Transit: Vancouver City Ctr Stn Southbound
Price Range: $30-50+ ($25-35 mains)

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

Food: 5 (based on this tasting menu)
Service: n/a
Ambiance: 2.5
Value: 5
Overall: 5
Additional comments:

  • Executive Chef Hamid Salimian
  • Pacific Northwest with Persian inspiration
  • Innovative cuisine
  • Modernist techniques
  • Local and global ingredients
  • Seasonal ingredients
  • Seasonal menus
  • Chef Tasting Menus
  • Cocktail/wine program
  • Bar/lounge seating
  • Breakfast/bunch/lunch/dinner
  • Complimentary valet if dining at restaurant
  • 7 days/week – 7:00 am–12:00 am
  • My post for “Diva Snacks
  • My post for Diva at the Met’s regular Tasting Menu

**Recommendations: Tasting Menu. My favourites from his Persian Tasting Menu include: Diva Snacks, Halva, Ash-Reshteh, Koofteh, and Sholah Zard. Foie Gras Walnut, Mussel CoalAlbacore Tuna, Duo of Lamb, Pork Jowl were highlights from previous tasting menus that sometimes make a reappearance.

Diva at the Met Persian Menu 173Finally. The man gets some well deserved attention. “Hamid Salimian may be the city’s most underrated chef… ” and is voted by industry as “Best Chef in Vancouver” for the 16th Annual Golden Plates awards by local entertainment newspaper The Georgia Straight (Thursday March 14, 2013). For those who have been rooting for Hamid all along, it has been a long time waiting. He already has at least 10 culinary championship titles (national and international), but this is a local award the general public will recognize and acknowledge in Vancouver.

I was introduced to Chef Hamid Salimian and his culinary talents in February 2011 (see my post here) back when he was at The Apron in Richmond, BC. He finished top of his class at Vancouver Community College in the 90’s and he’s been working in Vancouver and Victoria since graduating. It already took me long enough to discover him, but I was an instant fan as soon as I did. Now that he has returned to working in downtown Vancouver, he is getting the recognition and praise he deserves. The only thing is the majority of the praise is coming from industry and “insiders” rather than the public, and I wish it was from both.

Diva at the Met Persian Menu (42)I’ve written about his Chef’s Tasting Menu at The Apron here, his Persian New Years Dinner Menu at The Apron here, his desserts at The Apron here, his Tasting Menu at Diva at the Met here, his “Diva Snacks” here and now again here. There are two things consistent in all those posts and that is Hamid’s food and my “cheerleading”.

It is no secret I’ve been a supporter of him and his work since the day I tried his food. I have called him one of my favourite chefs in the city for years now, if not my favourite chef in the city period – and I don’t throw those comments around without weight. Yes, we are now friends, but it is not why I champion him and I still write about his food honestly and “critically”. I am not a “critic”, but I like to analyze and I have no shame supporting things I believe in.

Part of the reason Hamid and Diva at the Met are still relatively unknown is because of the somewhat stale room and ambiance which does not match the food. It recently underwent “big” renovations, but to be honest I couldn’t even tell what changed. If you are looking for an atmosphere and a restaurant “to be seen”, then there are better options, but if it is really about the food (which it is for me) then you must try it. It is truly about the food and not anything else, although a big shout out to Hamid’s kitchen crew, Pastry Chef Kate, the relatively new cocktail program led by bartender David Bain (trained by Vancouver’s “King bartender” David W.) and sommelier Corey Bauldry.

If you need excitement in your dining experience then I also recommend sitting at “Chef’s Table” which is the counter in front of the open kitchen. It’s not “romantic”, but the experience is personal. Don’t feel obligated to “rack up the bill” either and everyone and anyone is welcome to sit there. It is my favourite spot in any restaurant and it’s where all the action happens, but then again not everyone is looking for this kind of experience.

Diva at the Met Persian Menu 172Photo from @_itsYash

On this occasion I was invited to try Hamid’s “Persian inspired Tasting Menu” in celebration of Nowruz (Persian New Years) on Thursday March 21. This special tasting menu runs until March 29, and after the menu will return to Diva at the Met’s regular Chef’s Tasting Menu which is Pacific Northwest with Persian inspiration. I strongly recommend trying the regular Chef’s Tasting Menu as well because it is different although executed with the same labour intensive techniques, passion and intelligence. This post will focus on his current Persian inspired Tasting Menu.

Hamid is born in Iran and he is very close to his Persian roots as to why the menu is Persian influenced. It is a very unique menu, and it is not for everyone. If you are new to Persian food than this won’t necessarily introduce you to the authentic dishes of Iran, but it stays true to the flavours of it and all the courses are traditional. The menu uses a combination of local and global ingredients, and the cooking methods are a mix of Persian, traditional French and New American (modernist). The result is not “modern Persian cuisine”, but New Persian cuisine which offers an upscale approach more scientific and artistic than simply “modern”. I don’t like using the words “fusion” or “molecular gastronomy”, but those are terms associated with the style, although too often misused and abused. Nonetheless the food is treated with respect, and the modern techniques are used professionally with practice, control and purpose.

Persian food is predominantly sour, so be prepared because Hamid stays committed to authentic Persian flavours. I am not Persian, so I am experiencing the food with a Canadian-Asian palate. I’ve had restaurant and homecooked Persian food, but I still have limited understanding and knowledge of the food. Therefore I found it extra helpful to have Hamid give me a bit of background on each dish before trying it. The staff provides the same service for all tables which really helps translate the menu. That being said the menu requires a bit of guidance or it risks getting lost in translation.

The menu was a celebration of Nowruz, although not a traditional “Nowruz menu”. I have tried Hamid’s Persian New Years menu at The Apron (see here), and I am ecstatic he is doing it again. The menus are completely different, but the idea is the same. I did enjoy his Persian New Years menu at The Apron more, but this one was still excellent. It is apples and oranges to compare this to his regular tasting menus too, although the style is still the same.

Persian food is comforting and I enjoy it family style, in casual one pot wonders, but Hamid’s approach is fascinating and appreciated on a whole other level. I experienced the menu as Hamid’s vision of Persian food, which is not diluted, but highly innovative. Quite frankly, the menu is advanced and it would be new for those familiar with the cuisine too. There is no one else in Vancouver taking Persian food to this level, and few could replicate it even if they wanted to, and that is worth celebrating beyond Nowruz.

**Note: Chef Hamid’s Persian inspired tasting menu is offered at 6 courses for $55 with wine for $100 or 8 courses for $75 with wine for $135. The price of the menu is almost laughable and it offers the best value in any tasting menu I’ve ever come across in a developed city/country. There are no expectations for the outcome of this post. 

On the table:

Diva at the Met Persian Menu (1)Blue Mountain Vineyard and Cellars Brut Okanagan Valley, BC – It is a familiar sparkling wine in BC and generally considered very good. It was crisp, dry and lemony and it was a great choice considering all the various “Diva Snacks” to come. Champagne goes with almost everything and I thoroughly enjoy this one alone or with hors d’oeuvres.

Diva at the Met Persian Menu (7)Complimentary Bread & Butter

  • I always appreciate complimentary bread and at this level of dining I do expect it.
  • All the breads are made in house and it is usually a standard selection of Poppy seed Ciabatta, Russian Rye, caramelized onion and pecan, and sesame crisps.
  • The caramelized onion and pecan with cranberries is my favourite and it is the sweeter bread on the plank. I could use more pecans, but I like it.
  • The Russian Rye is savoury, nutty and earthy with some aromatic toasted caraway seeds.
  • The poppy seed ciabatta was a bit tough and dry for me, so it wasn’t my favourite.
  • The sesame crisps are a bit thicker and they don’t have that home made quality, so I considered it more standard.
  • The bread basket has more potential, but I appreciate the service, variety and effort.

Diva at the Met Persian Menu (6)This is killer. The bread was served with butter topped with brown butter powder. It looks like sundried tomato powder and it is slightly tangy from perhaps lemon juice added to the brown butter. It is made with maltodextrin which is a safe powder made from starches like corn or tapioca. This already shows the theme of the menu and style of the chef. Bread and butter can say a lot.

Diva at the Met Persian Menu (2)Joojeh Kabab – 4.5/6 (Very good-Excellent)

  • Chicken kebab
  • I know. It looks nothing like a kabab, but it captures the flavour of it.
  • I could smell the charcoal lifting off the ultra thin, frail and crisp chicken skin.
  • If you think you don’t like skin, try it like this. It is the most delicate chicken skin which sounds like an oxymoron.
  • I could smell the charcoal and see the grill marks and it reminded me of Hamid’s Chicken Bacon from a previous tasting menu.
  • It was made almost the same way, but also very differently.
  • This chicken skin “chip” is smoked, brined, marinated, baked and grilled.
  • It is salted and marinated in lemon juice, onions, garlic, and saffron which I could taste, but it wasn’t overpowering.
  • It was very well seasoned and it captured the flavours of a Persian chicken kebab.
  • There was a dollop of garlic yogurt and chives which was a bit spicy from the very fresh and raw garlic.
  • It was almost like “chips and dip” or “chicken wings and dip” and I just wanted more dip.
  • Of course it does not compare to a traditional Joojeh Kabab made with marinated chicken breast, but the flavours were reminiscent.

Diva at the Met Persian Menu (3)**Maghaz – 5.5/6 (Excellent!)

  • Cerveau
  • Ha. This was funny. Hamid brought this out and hesitated a few seconds before telling me what it was. I blurted “brains” out before he did.
  • I took French. I know what “cerveau” is! It is the French word for brain, but the word “brain” on a menu in Vancouver is not going to sit well with the majority.
  • I like brain, but I don’t crave it. I’m not going to sit there with a big bowl of brains on a Friday night, but I enjoy it and would order it on my own.
  • Visually, the brain looks like a brain and it is not very appetizing at all, but here it is disguised extremely well. I couldn’t even tell where it was.
  • In Iran sheep/lamb brain is traditionally served in a stew with goat tongue, cheeks, and feet, or on its own in a sandwich pan fried in butter with caramelized onions.
  • The brain here was served as a puréed dip.
  • The lamb brain was marinated and cooked with a lot of blanched garlic and it almost tasted like a creamy thick and rich garlic aioli.
  • Having tried brain before I couldn’t even tell this was brain, but it was also richer and more savoury than a standard aioli. It had umami.
  • The umami comes a bit naturally because brains are basically all fat. It is not chewy fat, but very creamy and tender soft fat.
  • Lamb brains do not taste like lamb, animal fat, or really like any animal meat. It is not gamey, meaty, or strong.
  • They taste very similar to sweetbreads and they have a very mild, milky and delicate flavour.
  • The pureed brain was topped with sweet onion powder which was candy-like, but not sugary. I loved the sweet and salty contrast with the brain.
  • There was also a sprinkle of crispy onions and crispy shallots for texture to contrast the creamy brain dip.
  • Together it tasted like a savoury sweet garlic onion dip on a “chip”. I could have it on perogies!
  • All of it was carried on a crisp rice “cracker” which reminded me of Chinese prawn crackers except it was flavourless.
  • I would have liked the rice cracker seasoned because the onion powder and brain were all in the centre for 1-2 decadent bites.
  • If you have never tried brain I would barely call this even trying it because it doesn’t resemble brain at all.
  • I am really happy he took the “risk” and put brain on the menu.
  • It pushes boundaries and I want to be introduced to new foods from other cultures.
  • It is always nice to see the whole animal being used and not wasted too.
  • I actually want to try the traditional Iranian lamb brain sandwich, but it is understandable for him to make brains approachable for Vancouver tastes.

Diva at the Met Persian Menu (4)**Kashk e Bademjan – 6/6 (FMF Must Try!)

  • Eggplant caviar, buttermilk and kashk (sour whey) macaron, eggplant puree, mint, yogurt powder
  • I love this Persian dish and I loved Hamid’s new way of looking at it, although it looks nothing like the original – see Kashke Bademjan.
  • It is a Persian appetizer dip made from deep fried eggplants, sauteed garlic, onions and fresh mint topped with Kashk (whey). It is often eaten with lavash (flatbread).
  • In this case it was executed like a macaron, but it was still savoury and not sweet.
  • The eggplant dip was sandwiched between airy light and crisp meringue made from whey and buttermilk.
  • Kashk (whey) is a Persian style yogurt that tastes like sour cream meets feta cheese.
  • The meringue had the weight of styrofoam and it was very hard to hold on to its flavour, but it was slightly tangy at the end.
  • The creamy smooth eggplant filling tasted exactly like the Persian dip which is smoky, garlicky and a bit tangy.
  • The whole thing just melted in my mouth and I didn’t bite or chew once.
  • It just disappeared as soon as I squished it to the roof of my mouth, but it left me with enough flavour to make me crave it.
  • I’m a very texture oriented person, but in this case I think the desired texture was a smooth consistency from two very different components.
  • I could eat at least 20 of these.

Diva at the Met Persian Menu (5)**Sekanjabin Kaho5/6 (Excellent)

  • Compressed romaine heart, apple mint Gastrique, romaine granita
  • This is pretty amazing if you’ve never tried it, and even if you’ve tried Sekanjabin Kaho, this is still impressive.
  • Sekanjabin Kaho is a refreshing Persian drink, but here it was presented as the palate cleanser before the series of appies and mains.
  • It was almost like a Persian style mojito meets a healthy green leafy pressed juice.
  • It is very refreshing with mint, lime and romaine. I thought there was cucumber, but there was no cucumber.
  • Sekanjabin is a sweet and sour Persian syrup made from vinegar and simple sugar syrup (or honey) mixed together.
  • The syrup is aggressively sweet and sour so you really need to eat it with everything mixed together.
  • The syrup was also reduced with some mint and the vinegar was apple cider vinegar.
  • It was drizzled over romaine granita, which is almost like the texture of a slurpee, but more powdery.
  • The texture of this granita ice was fine, feathery and soft and it wasn’t like the standard Italian granita in mouthfeel.
  • The romaine was very obvious in flavour and it was showcased in various textures: granita, juiced (or just melted granita), and as tender hearts.
  • The hearts of romaine were marinated in perhaps lime, so they were a bit tangy, but I could still taste their natural flavour.
  • The romaine might seem random, but traditionally the drink is served with romaine leaves for dipping.
  • Nothing was really mixed together and it was almost like a sundae, so it was fun to discover all the layers.
  • I ended up getting a bite of salt at the end so I would have liked that mixed into one of the components rather than sprinkled at the end.
  • The dessert is much better eaten with everything together and I would say it is a bit acquired as a drink, but as a palate cleanser it works perfectly.

Diva at the Met Persian Menu (20)Stag’s Hollow Sauvignon Blanc, Okanagan Valley, BC, 2011 – It is a locally known brand and good value. This was refreshing and crisp with a bit of acidity from lime and it was slightly grassy too.

Diva at the Met Persian Menu (8)Zeytoon Parvarde – 3/6 (Good)

  • Cracked wheat, beef tartar, sorrel
  • I liked this course, but I didn’t love it because I found the beef tartar secondary, if not an after thought.
  • Zeytoon Parvarde is a Persian olive dish made with pomegranate juice (or seeds) and walnuts, so this was very different from the original.
  • It is from the north of Iran by the Caspian sea.
  • I found it celebrated the olive and sorrel the most which are two very strong flavours.
  • There was a lot of sorrel and Spanish green olive puree on the plate and it had a grassy, herby and sour taste which matched the wine.
  • I almost thought there was arugula or maybe even mint (?) pureed with it.
  • The olives made it quite salty while the sorrel sour and I wanted something to eat it with.
  • The dish seemed more puree than tartar.
  • The beef tartar was very finely hand minced and semi grilled, and it was a bit chewy.
  • The mince was quite consistent and it was mixed with black Kalamata olives so the flavour of the beef was lost.
  • The frozen olive crumble sprinkled on top was actually my favourite part.
  • The crumble tasted like it was made from chickpea flour seasoned with Middle Eastern spices and it was nutty like walnut crumbs or powder.
  • Traditionally the dish is whole olives coated in a creamy marinade of grated walnuts, so this was an unique interpretation of the idea.
  • The cracked wheat or puffed rye was sprinkled around the plate for a nutty crunch.
  • I would have loved it more as walnuts, but I think they were trying to avoid nut allergies by avoiding walnuts entirely.
  • I tried various combinations of the components together and it was tricky to find a balance.

Diva at the Met Persian Menu (19)Chateau d’Armes Sauternes – You just know the f*** is coming when you get the Sauternes. 

Diva at the Met Persian Menu (10)**Halva – 5.5/6 (Excellent!)

  • Chilled foie gras, preserved fig, raisin
  • Oh gosh… this brought halva to a level I never imagined. This was really catered to my tastes.
  • It actually tasted just like his Puffed Quebec Foie Gras dish, but in another form.
  • My favourite way to enjoy foie is simply seared as is, but it is not the style here so I appreciate it for what it is.
  • The frozen foie gras torchon was presented in a sheet and it was almost like frozen “butter”.
  • It was so rich and buttery (as foie naturally is) and I could taste the umami of the foie and it wasn’t just fat and cream.
  • It was savoury and a bit starchy and it was naturally oily alone, but fantastic with all the components hidden underneath.

Diva at the Met Persian Menu (11)

  • Underneath the foie were all the condiments!
  • I kept thinking how cool it would be to have the sheet of foie gras executed as a white chocolate foie sphere and then cracking it open to find all these goodies! It was an inspiring course!
  • This is dish from south of Iran. Iranian halva is different than Jewish or Greek halva and it is much more fragrant.
  • The halva was made with flour, sugar, rosewater, saffron and macerated fig so it was floral, sweet and nutty.
  • Sometimes it has cardamom, but there was no cardamom in this although I would have liked the addition.
  • The flavour started sweet and nutty with saffron at the end and it wasn’t bitter or too perfume like with the aromatics.
  • It was not dry, but unusually feathery, moist and “fresh”, and it was unlike other halvas. It was a chilled halva that was grated.
  • It was mixed with plump and pickled Sultana raisins (pickled in Chardonnay vinegar) and crunchy toasted almonds.
  • The sweet and sour raisins were very pickled on their own, but mixed with everything it was fine.
  • The raisins helped cut the richness of the foie and I just loved the various textures of all the components.
  • The moist preserved figs pickled in elderberry vinegar gave another dimension of sweet, sour and floral.
  • The crunchy toasted almonds gave the desired crunchy texture.
  • It would have been even better as marcona almonds, or even better than that, Iranian pistachios!
  • It was sweet, savoury, tangy, and balanced and it was everything I want in a dish.
  • It was light yet rich in flavours and I could have had this again for dessert.
  • Another creative frozen foie gras dish I had was the Foie Gras Ice Cream Sandwich.

To be continued…

See – Persian Tasting Menu at Diva at the Met – Part 2/3!

See – Persian Tasting Menu at Diva at the Met – Part 3/3!

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4 Comments

  • Roger says:

    Wish I was in Vancouver to try this! Thanks for continuing to advertise Chef Hamid’s amazing cooking, it’s disappointing to me to see how little people know about him! I only wish Vancouver had the same kind of foodie hype machine as NYC or SF to give him the recognition he deserves.

  • Joseph says:

    There is some rumors in the foodie community that Chef Hamid is moving to SF. Not sure if it’s true or not.

  • mimihui says:

    All the foods are so yummy so…good-food…good health!

  • Mijune says:

    @Roger – ME TOO! If he was in LA/SF… he’d get a Michelin Star.

    @Joseph – False. Thank goodness… we need to keep his talent here lol.. i’m being selfish.

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