Zar Cafe

413 Lake Ave. St. James, NY 631-862-4444

Zar Cafe in St. James.

(Credit: Meghan Giannotta)

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Type: Greek, Middle Eastern, Persian, Italian Special features: Outdoor Seating Price range: $$ (Moderate) Description:

Restaurant serving Persian and Mediterranean cuisine.

Hours: Mon.-Sat.: 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m.; Sun. 4 p.m.-9 p.m. Reservations: Recommended Credit cards: Accepted Accessibility: Restroom not accessible.
Soups at Zar Cafe are also served with

Soups at Zar Cafe are also served with warm bread. (Credit: Photo by Ed Betz)

 Zar, which loosely translates to "gold" in Farsi, is the name of an intriguing little cafe opened by brothers Hugh and Kouros Farhoudi, Persian by birth. Hugh, the owner, is an architect who moved here from London last year and immediately set about designing and renovating the brick and glass building. It's a striking space, the front almost all window. Farhoudi's handmade tables, which seat two, are glass-topped and appear to float. The only problem is that to accommodate parties of four or more, they must be pushed together but cannot touch, lest their edges chip.

A lot less fragile is chef Kouros Farhoudi's robust Mediterranean fare, much of it Greek, a few dishes of Persian and Turkish origin. A must-order is the heavenly eggplant dip, made with ground beef topped with sauteed mint and fried onion and garnished with chopped walnuts. It's available by itself and as part of an appetizer sampler that includes an airy and herbal whipped hummus as well as dolmas, warm rice and herb-stuffed grape leaves. I tried the dip at lunch and had to have it again at a dinner. Another starter, shrimp wrapped in bacon, was simple, straightforward and fine. Farhoudi makes a flaky and satisfying spanokopita (spinach pie), but his chicken-lemon soup, while flavorsome, had a somewhat mealy consistency.

A gratis Greek salad precedes entrees. It's a winner, topped with lots of feta, dolmas, Kalamata olives, peppers, red onion and tomatoes in a peppy herb vinaigrette.

I can't understand why this restaurant would bother with a roster of pastas. The one I sampled, chicken Cyrus, consisted of penne tossed with chunks of boneless chicken and spinach in a creamy but bland tomato sauce.

A far better choice was grilled marinated jumbo shrimp, which featured fresh shellfish cooked to succulence and served with a bright melange of zucchini, green pepper and onion. Grilled salmon with an herb-butter sauce proved light and delicate, if just a trifle overdone.

Two types of grilled lamb are offered, shish kebab and a dish called grilled lamb Zar. The difference, said our waitress, is that the lamb Zar is made with exceptionally tender pieces of meat. Served with a vibrant tomato- sumac dipping sauce on the side, it lived up to her description. Zar chicken saffron, while flavorful, lacked its promised saffron sauce. But a hefty slab of moussaka (a layering of eggplant, meat sauce and bechamel) was as hearty as it was savory.

Because I'm averse to cloves, a flavor that permeated the sesame seed- topped house-made baklava, I preferred a finale of tartufo, a chocolate- coated ice-cream bonbon, brought in from an outside supplier.

Soon, Farhoudi said, Zar will offer some authentic Persian dishes as specials. Good. A chef capable of turning out that amazing eggplant dip has a lot more tricks up his sleeve than good moussaka and kebabs. -Reviewed by Joan Reminick, 10/17/07.

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Zar Cafe 413 Lake Ave., St. James

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