Persian restaurants are a rare sight in Calgary. Although, after indulging in my first Persian dining experience, I can't see why.
Perched on the corner of Centre Street and 11th Ave. NE, the newly opened Shiraz restaurant can be easily overlooked except by those who know what they are searching for. Walking in, one would be surprised to learn of the quaint and dimly lit space's past as a Chinese buffet. The background Persian music and grandiose framed photographs suggest a true ethnic style and the apple-red walls and miniature tree centre pieces are surely alluring.
An eclectic mixture of diners -- family friends, awkward couples on their first date and groups looking for a cultural dining experience -- all provide a welcoming ambiance for newcomers. There is definitely no need to feel shy about a lack of Persian culinary experience.
One would be a lucky to indulge in the vast variety of food regularly and our server's charm is enough to make anyone feel like this is their usual dining spot. She was quick to recognize my friend, "Ah, you have been here before!"
After getting cozy in the sleek and modern booths, we opted for the Shiraz appetizer platter ($16) to get our palates churning. Our server correctly interpreted our dumbfounded looks and had us laughing with a quick demonstration of what to do with this beautifully compiled plate. With our newly-acquired knowledge, we didn't hesitate to scarf down every last dolmades and pita filled with an array of roasted eggplant dip, yogurt and cucumber dip and traditional diced vegetable dip. The second our pitas appeared on the verge of extinction, our server was quick to provide another basket full.
It was tough to choose only one of the main courses and our server made even more difficult by telling us they could put something together if we wanted anything not listed on the menu. We all chose dishes from the large list of menu options and I went for the vegetarian kebab ($12). Everything was presented on beautiful white plates and with rice topped with saffron. Our server explained that saffron is very good for your mind, that it helps your sense of humour and makes people laugh. We were all giggling in no time (possibly because of the saffron or maybe the good company) while also dousing our food in sumac, a subtle spice that's supposed to be good for your liver and digestion.
The only time we took a break from filling our mouths with the delicious food was when the chef himself came by to make sure we were enjoying his finely prepared dishes. And did we ever enjoy them -- so much so that we had no room at the end to taste any of the desserts or a carbonated yogurt drink, a Persian specialty. I will most definitely be returning shortly to try both of these.
Every aspect of our experience at Shiraz was positive. The wonderful service and mouth-watering food ensured we left happy and satisfied. With the price range being perfect for any student outing and the menu fit to provide for any lifestyle choice, grab your vegan boyfriend and carnivorous friends and catch the bus for the ultimate dining experience.