When you first experience Middle Eastern cuisine at Shiraz you'll wonder why you waited so long to try it. Similar in some ways to familiar fare of the Mediterranean, yet tied to the Far East by the addition of exotic herbs and spices, the Persian cuisine at Shiraz is a juxtaposition of the comforting and the extraordinary. It is also distinctly flavorful, delicately aromatic, and decidedly celiac friendly.
The mainstays of Persian cooking are grilled meat, slow-cooked stews, and rice. The meat is often served as kabobs- small chunks of lamb, beef, or chicken which may be marinated in ingredients that might include saffron, onions, yogurt, and lime juice, that are then skewered and grilled over an open flame.
Shiraz also serves shrimp and vegetable kebobs. The only kabob I can personally vouch for is the lamb, and it is so good I may never try any other kabob or grilled specialty! Then again, I'd miss out on trying items such as lamb chops served with an olive mushroom sauce or salmon with a saffron lemon sauce. Vegetables, fruits, and spices (such as saffron, mint, and cardamom) figure predominantly in Persian cooking. A new GF addition to the menu is a duck breast with honey lavender sauce.
Each time I've dined at Shiraz the staff has assured me they do not use flour to dust food items, do not marinate with any ingredients off-limits to celiacs, and do not thicken sauces with flour. I've also spoken with the chef and owner, Rashin Mazaheri, who encourages celiacs and others with special dietary needs to dine at her restaurant. She keeps a celiac card in the kitchen to reference what celiacs can and cannot eat. Of course, you should always verify this information for yourself each time. The only grilled item I was told not to order because of the meat tenderizer is Sultani, which is charbroiled sirloin strips. I was also advised not to order Moroccan Crepes, and it should go without saying not to eat the pita bread or tabboli (bulgur wheat).
On one of my visits to Shiraz my dining companion, Anne Barfield, knowingly ordered a traditional Persian stew called Ghaimeh Bademjan, which is described as beef and eggplant in a zesty tomato sauce. The stew was accompanied by a serving of saffron rice. Anne shared a morsel of the stew with me and I swore I would order it for myself next time.
But I didn't. That's because there were so many other dishes that tempted me! Dishes with foreign sounding names such as Bandary (beef sirloin in a spicy pomegranate sauce), Fasenjan (baked chicken in a walnut pomegranate sauce), and Gormeh Sabzi (chunks of lamb in a parsley cilantro sauce).
I try not to get hung up on the names or pronunciation of the food as the menu accurately describes each entrée and the wait staff is exceptionally knowledgeable about each dish’s ingredients and preparation. They are also used to being asked for recommendations!
So, on my most recent foray to Shiraz I took the advice of my waiter and ordered Tachin, layers of baked chicken and rice in a saffron yogurt sauce. It is baked in a pie dish, inverted onto a serving plate, and surrounded with a traditional Iranian fruit known as barberry. It took the kitchen a while to prepare my order, yet I understood that to mean the Tachin was being prepared fresh just for me and that extra care would be taken to ensure it was gluten free. I was right on both points and it was well worth the wait.
In addition to Shiraz's enticing entrée menu, a number of appetizers, salads, and desserts are suitable for celiacs. Iran’s most famous export, caviar, is on the menu but it's not on my "must try" list. Maybe it is for others. Instead, I've opted for the roasted eggplant (without pita bread), an unusual triple-cooked crispy rice dish called Tahdig, and the Shirazi salad of cucumbers, tomatoes, and red onions. The desserts are equally interesting and exotic with flavors and spices, such as rose water and cardamom, which may be unfamiliar to the American palate. Be daring and try them!
This review was written by Melanie Psaltakis in November, 2004, and updated by Anne Barfield in September, 2010.