Jino’s Pars navigates the unlikely pairing of Italian and Persian cuisines with great success
By Richard Foss (Richard@RichardFoss.com)
Some multicultural restaurants are a product of culinary inspiration, while others are spawned by more practical considerations. The manager of
a restaurant in a neighborhood with changing demographics might add items that reflect the newcomers’ tastes and find that regulars are intrigued by the expanded choices. Sometimes two people start a restaurant and each bring their own cuisine to the party, as in the marriage of Turkish and Swedish cuisines at Gravlax, a Culver City bistro, or the Korean and Greek fare I enjoyed at a Seattle café.
Then there are places like Jino’s Pars in Westchester, which used to be two separate restaurants, one Italian and the other Persian. The same person owned both establishments, and one day he decided to tear down the wall between to make one big dining room out of two little ones. There remains at least one reminder of that separation in the décor — the east wall is decorated with scenes of Italy, the west with a Persian carpet.
That bifurcation is present on the menu, too. One side is Italian, the flip side Persian, but they take it in stride if you’d like to have fried calamari followed by fesenjan or some dolmeh before your spaghetti. Even the beverage list reflects two cultures, as Jino’s Pars offers Italian wines and also a Shiraz called Persian Tradition. Though the Shiraz grape shares a name with a city in Iran, this vintage is made in California by Persian immigrants. The resulting wine is no mere novelty. It had a gentle spiciness that complements this cuisine very well.
Noticing the size of entrees headed for nearby tables, we decided to split one appetizer: a “Mediterranean Eggplant” that is Lebanese in spirit even though it’s from the Italian side of the menu. The roasted eggplant is mashed with Greek yogurt and topped with fried onions, then served cold with fresh fried pita chips. A topping of garlic- and mint-flavored oil makes the dish tangy, spicy and addictive, and if you have any affection for eggplant at all it’s a must-order. The Persian side of the menu has a dish with similar ingredients but different spicing, and it is served hot without the chips.
Three of our party were in a mood for Persian food and one craved pizza, so on this trip we didn’t explore many of the Italian options. Most dinners come with soup or salad, and I tried the soup of vegetables, barley and lentils. The salad — a traditional mix of tomato, cucumber and red onion with an olive oil, lemon, parsley and pepper dressing — was something I could make at home, while a hearty soup was more to my taste.
For my main course I ordered a beef, onion and split-pea stew topped with fried eggplant and seasoned with dried limes and other spices, with a spicy lamb kebab on the side. Persian food isn’t usually highly seasoned, but whoever made those kebabs really likes jalapenos. I was glad I ordered it but was sweating by the time I’d finished. The stew was more typical of Persian cuisine, richly but mildly flavored with a slight tartness from the lime. Persians do great things with fruit and meat cooked together, and this stew was a fine example.
The other two Persian entrees at our table were a chicken and beef kebab combo plate and a large lamb shank in a sauce with complex flavors of cardamom, turmeric and green herbs. The kebabs were tasty and moist but not exceptional, and served with rice and a broiled tomato. The lamb shank was the standout dish, so tender that it was falling off the bone and delicious from start to finish. The only quibble I had with it is one common to all Persian food — I wish that more vegetables were included. The huge portion of meat and rice can be tasty, but a bit of one of the traditional vegetable stews would balance the meal in a way that would better fit Californian tastes.
My wife had ordered the pizza, which came with the soft, medium-thick crust she prefers. (Thin crust may be had too, which is what I prefer.) There are a wide range of toppings here, and she chose an unusual combination of anchovies, mushroom and eggplant. The anchovies may have been a tactic to keep our companions from raiding her dinner, but this didn’t work on me — as pizzas with anchovies go, this one worked fairly well. If you prefer medium crusts this may be the place for you, since my wife devoured the whole thing happily and pronounced it very good.
Desserts are offered on both sides of the menu, but as tempting as the baklava, bread pudding and intriguing Persian sweets looked, we were full. Dinner for four in elegant surroundings with a bottle of wine ran $109, very reasonable for the quality of the experience. Jino’s Pars is an unlikely success, where flavors from two distinct cuisines are each presented very well.
Jino’s Pars 5844 W Manchester Ave., Westchester (310) 645-6666 jinospars.com