Sabzy Persian Grill

9314 34 Ave.

780-758-1005

sabzy.net

Food: 4 of 5 Suns

Ambience: 3 of 5 Suns

Service: 4.5 of 5 Suns

11 a.m. – 10 p.m. seven days a week

Dinner for two, just food – basic $30, loaded $60

I’m always gently skeptical of nutritional health claims.

This enzyme is good for this, gluten is bad, eggs were bad, now they’re good.

Serious evidence backs up the fact that if you eat too much and exercise too little, you will get fat. Too much sweet and crunchy, you’ll likely succumb to lifestyle-induced diabetes. But most other health claims are based on wishful thinking, not rigourous science.

So when Ahmad Sabetghadan of the Sabzy Persian Grill started talking about the enzymes in this ‘n’ that, how cooking eggplant one way does this — which is good for that — my eyebrows furrow.

Except Ahmad has a PhD from the University of Alberta in agriculture, and has such a love of food that he has probably forgotten more about nutrition than I’ll ever learn.

Sabzy Persian Grill is a most pleasant anomaly. It’s a Persian (Iranian) restaurant, of which there are precious few in town, especially of this quality.

The family Sabetghadan — father Ahmad, sons Ali and Hossein, mother Aghdas Golchi (In Iran, married women keep their family name) — are all well-educated and could easily work in other professions. But they are family, they enjoy working together, they enjoy the hospitality business and love to cook interesting, “healthy” Iranian/Persian food.

These qualities, in a non-descript wood-panelled restaurant in a 34th Avenue strip mall with solid tables and chairs, have created a very loyal clientele. (Sabzy was originally on Whyte Avenue near 104th Street. It has been long gone, but the Whyte Avenue landlord still hangs the Sabzy sign.)

Friends have long urged me to dine/review Sabzy. I was gently hesitant. Over the years I’ve found Edmonton’s middle-eastern restaurants to be inconsistent. Some (Parkallen, Istanbul, Phoenicia) are great. But too many others have too much lemon, too much tart, too much fat in the meat, too much garlic, too much glaring flavour, not enough subtlety.

Sabzy is anything but. The ancient Persian culture and ethnicity of modern-day Iran is quite different from its Arab and Asia Minor neighbours. Sabzy’s Persian offerings are of the region — kabobs, variations on yogurt and hummus, lamb, fruits and nuts in many dishes. But they are very different in their subtleties, and it must be said, at Sabzy, cooked to a much higher standard than most.

Each dish was a culinary adventure. “Kashkeh Bademjoon” is unique. Well-grilled eggplant slices are topped with a fermented yogurt called whey cream, covered in turn by beautifully caramelized onion and garlic, then the entire rectangular dish sprinkled with charred eggplant bits. Smooth, light, unusual and delicious.

Sabzy’s lamb shank would be an ideal introduction of lamb to the normally lamb adverse. Lamb gets a bad rap. Outside of lamb chops and rack of lamb, few chefs understand the meat. Sabzy’s lamb shank, slow-cooked and marinated in rosemary and ginger, was beautifully tender, delicately flavoured and a perfect match with the accompanying Zereshk Polow (a unique Persian rice/barberry berry mix).

You won’t find a better kabob in town, mainly because of the meat. The Barg was a strip of the very best beef tenderloin cut crosswise, seasoned and marinated not so much for more taste, but to bring out the best in the meat. The Bandari was fresh range-chicken chunks with fruit highlights thanks to an apricot marinade with a light cayenne kick.

The Fesenjoon (pomegranate chicken stew) looked a little odd, a thick walnut/pomegranate pureed paste entirely covering the chicken, with several tablespoons of seedless pomegranate pods on top. The combo was so unusual to our Euro-western dictated tastes, but absolutely delicious.

Here’s the final rub.

Ahmad loves to sit down and chat about the health benefits of this ‘n’ that in Sabzy’s cooking.

He just might be right. I swear we left Sabzy’s, into the snowy night, not feeling stuffed and somehow more energized than what’s normal after an evening of good food.

Hmmmm ….