TABLES FOR TWO
16 W. 8th St.
BY SHAUNA LYON
JANUARY 20, 2014
Photo by Malu Alvarez
What ever happened to the intellectual cafés of Greenwich Village, where struggling artists could order a cup of coffee (not a Venti), read a newspaper (not an iPad), and talk to someone sitting across from them (not via text message)? Most of those tiny cafés have been priced out of the neighborhood, replaced by the Think Coffees, the La Colombes, the Stumptowns (don’t even mention that other place). Café Nadery is a descendant of those bohemian coffeehouses, with a twist—it’s owned by a collective of some twenty Iranian-Americans, and pays homage to an Iranian landmark. The renowned Naderi Café, built in 1928 in Tehran, was the place where writers and philosophers went to hobnob in its mid-twentieth-century heyday.
New York’s Nadery, on West Eighth Street near N.Y.U., doesn’t look like much. The spacious room has an air of studiousness during the day (laptops and outlets abound), and warm camaraderie at night, when there might be a poetry reading or live music—from classical Persian oud and kamancheh (string instruments) to Iranian funk and soul tunes from the sixties (who knew?). Word that there is an actual Persian café in downtown Manhattan has got around among Iranians, and happy hour can be a boisterous affair; in addition to craft beers and affordable bottles of wine, there are several kinds of tea, the best being, appropriately, the Persian variety, served with honey-dipped sugar cubes.
Nadery’s menu was originally designed by Louisa Shafia, author of “The New Persian Kitchen,” whose vegetarian-forward influence can be seen in the lovely lemony kale salad and in the pleasantly sweet beet burger, accompanied by torshi, a pickle of finely chopped vegetables. The yogurt appetizer highlights this staple of Persian cuisine; properly strained, it’s thicker, subtler, and more luscious than any variety out of a tub. It’s served with potato chips, an unnecessary Americanization, since it’s best eaten with crunchy Afghan bread or lavash.
Nadery’s delicious ash-e reshteh, the Persian soup that always has lentils, herbs, and greens but which every Iranian cook makes his or her own way, here includes chickpeas, spinach, and noodles. Garnished with onions fried with dried mint and kashk (a tangy by-product of cheese-making similar to sour cream), the soup is a full meal in itself. There’s a decent lamb-kebab special some nights, but nothing tops ghormeh sabzi, the ultimate Persian comfort food. The dark-green stew of beef, beans, dried lemon, and herbs is pungent with fenugreek, and, according to the son of an excellent Persian cook, Nadery “nails it.”
The original Naderi Café remains open in Iran, a symbol of freedoms that have come and gone in that country. With so much discussion, intellectual and otherwise, taking place on the Internet these days, it’s easy to forget that we are lucky to have places like Café Nadery, where we can wear, read, and say whatever we want. ♦
Open weekdays for lunch and dinner and weekends for brunch and dinner. Dishes $6-$14.