Persian Comfort Served All Day at Cafe Nadery
by Craig Cavallo
December 3, 2013
I had seated myself, which is customary when you walk into a place that serves food but isn’t exactly a restaurant. There’s Gimme coffee and hand-blended tea, but Café Nadery isn’t exactly a café. In many ways it’s a gathering place inspired by and built around the Iranian heritage of the 21 people who own it. The café is a venue for readings, live music, film screenings, art exhibits, lectures, and fora. It just so happens they serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
The waitress sidled up to my table and rested her hands on its edge. She put a paper menu in front of me. It’s the same one you get if you walk it at 9 a.m. when the café opens or 9 p.m., three hours before it closes. Café Nadery is open 15 hours a day (16 on weekends). The menu—thoughtful and versatile—is conscientious of that.
If you haven’t had breakfast, Sesame Date Minis ($.95) and Persian Black Tea ($2.50) go hand in hand. Both are only slightly sweet. If you’re hungrier, go for the Kuku Sazbi ($9). It’s a baked frittata, light and airy, turned deeply green by handfuls of dill, cilantro, and parsley. Greek yogurt brings a soft, subtle tang. There’s a shortage of salt, but an abundance of sangak served with it, which is Iran’s texturally appealing, somehow chewy-but-crisp, national bread.
The tired notion of a Kale and Apple Salad ($10) is woken up at Café Nadery with a cumin-lime vinaigrette, especially when the earthy cumin hits sweet Fuji apples. The kale softens under the dressing, to which walnuts add a bold crunch of contrast.
A soup on the menu was more of a stew: Ash-e Reshteh ($8), listed as a bean, herb, and noodle gumbo. If you were a stranger to this dish, as I was, you’d be wise to introduce yourself. After dried chick peas and kidney beans are soaked overnight, they join a bounty of spinach and herbs, but the best part is the dollop of kashk sitting buoy-like on the surface. Originally a by-product of cheese making, kashk is not unlike sour cream in that both are fermented, but kashk has a more excitable tang. Onions, garlic, dried mint, more spinach, and turmeric are chopped into a paste and floated next to the kashk. Both condiments loosen up when stirred into the hot stew. The dish is an exercise in Iranian comfort food.
The finely chopped roasted beets that make up the Beet Burger ($11) share the same color as rare beef and aren’t far off in texture. Cheddar cheese adds to the farce, so too does lettuce, tomato, and pickled onions. Tamarind date chutney reminded me I was in the Middle East while I tried to wrap my head around the torshi that’s served on the side. It’s a fine meal, but for this carnivore hard not to crave the salty lick of an 80/20 beef blend.
Torshi are pickled vegetables, in the same ball field as Italy’s giardiniera, i.e. cauliflower, carrots, celery, garlic, chili, vinegar etc. Though the Iranian preparation requires fermentation, and doing so brings the condiment to mouthwatering heights. Though not served with the Lamb Kabobs ($19), which are limited to Thursday nights after 6 p.m., my torshi were leftover when lunch turned to dinner one visit. And when the lamb, which spends the better part of a day marinating in a pomegranate molasses and walnut paste, shows up hot off the grill over saffron rice, the tender, medium rare chunks of meat are happy to drink the tangy relish. I’m happy to eat them.
Café Nadery is different from the countless storefronts that have come and gone on 8th Street over the years. It’s a genuine concept better suited to last, calling back to older Greenwich Village cafes, and it lacks the hyper-niche, micro-focused inventory of stores that have shared the block. Time is on your side when you eat there, and doing so is a break from the city’s rapid pace.