Some restaurants radiate charm as soon as you walk in the door. Most often you get that welcoming feeling in family run places such as Café Natasha’s. The Persian-inspired décor and dishes reflect the best of mid-Eastern culture in the area. With a menu that ranges from biryani to baba ganoush; from shish kebabs to shawarma; and curries to cabbage rolls, there are choices for every taste.
It all started more than 34 years ago when husband and wife, Behshid and Hamish Bahrami, opened a 400-square-foot, mini-cafeteria in a downtown office building. He was a geologist, who had just lost his job in the economic downturn. With a wife and young daughter to feed, Behshid had to do something to make a living. Without any previous restaurant experience, he opened a place called The Little Kitchen, starting with no more than a convection oven and a hot plate.
All in the Family
By 2001, what started as a dinky diner opened as a robust restaurant re-named Café Natasha after the daughter of the family. The move proved successful. The current café was later remodeled and continues to enliven the corner of South Grand and Wyoming.
Today the Bahrami women have a bustling business and a host of loyal fans. Natasha carries on the culinary traditions of her parents with the addition of such dishes as Pomegranate Eggplant, that she came upon while studying in Lebanon.
Natasha promotes the cafe with an active social media presence. She also oversees a regular happy hour, a catering service, the falafel eating contest, belly dancing, live music, and a bar with a Gin Room that features more than 50 varieties of gin.
A Cozy Patio & Comfy Gin Room
On Monday evening, I joined Robin, JC, and our friend Tracy for dinner on the patio. Natasha came in from a bike ride aroiund the neighborhood and stopped to visit before readying for the influx of guests that soon filled the outdoor space. That night they were donating all the proceeds from drink sales to Puerto Rican relief, she said. That was enough to encourage a round of drinks for the good of the cause.
A sumptuous meal of Persian classics followed, including the items pictured below. The Fessenjoon Stew made with chunks of boneless chicken breast stewed in a slightly sweet walnut-pomegranate sauce was delicious, but not photogenic.
While visiting with Hamish Bahrami in the Gin Room, I ran on to Chef Michael and Tara Gallina of Vicia restaurant, the new hotspot in town. (Now we know where an award-winning chef goes on his day off. 🙂 )
Keeping Food Wonderful
The restaurant motto is one the family still takes seriously. The words highlight the restaurant’s webpage: “We will not serve anything unless it is wonderful.” Hamish shows her commitment to that pledge as she makes the yogurt used in the various sauces and marinades, a process that takes careful straining to get the right consistency. Some of the traditional Persian dishes require long cooking, marinating, or the blending of special spices to achieve the flavor she remembers from her youth.
If the weather is right, consider eating on the side street patio. The outdoor dining area is sheltered with grapevines and plantings, including herbs used in the kitchen. Take time to visit with Hamish and Natasha. They cook for you like you were family.
Café Natasha’s: 3200 South Grand Boulevard. Open: Mon.-Tue. 11:30a-10p; Wed. closed; Thu.-Sat. 11:30a-1a; Sun. 11:30a-9p. Happy Hour: Thu-Sun 3p-6p.
Fun Facts: Did you know that pita bread is the world’s oldest bread? The pita at Natasha’s is warm, thin, and perfect for dipping. And, saffron, used in small amounts in mid-Eastern cuisine for its flavor and color, is one of the most expensive spices in the world and usually sold by the ounce or gram.