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Indulge in some Middle Eastern inspiration

SANTA FE, N.M. — Walking into Milad Persian Bistro is a bit like stepping back into old Santa Fe. Located in an old adobe house next door to the estimable El Farol, Milad’s front room is filled with art hanging on the walls, while plank floors below and vigas above reveal the history in the building’s bones.

On a quiet Superbowl Sunday evening, our group of eight presented an apparently welcome challenge to the friendly staff, as well as owner Neema Sadeghi, who greeted and chatted with us about his restaurant and its offerings.

And those offerings are off the culinary beaten path for northern New Mexico, with Milad offering both traditional and non-traditional bites inspired by the foods of Iran, Turkey and Lebanon. The menu features a series of small plates, so you can stop by for a quick nosh or settle in for a full meal of plates passed among your tablemates. Or you can choose from the full entrees that feature kabobs, while daily specials also expand your choices.

Drink choices include beer and wine, along with unusual Persian sodas and yogurt drinks. Milad also is developing a special tea menu (the listing includes ideal temperatures at which to steep the leaves) and hopes to feature that aspect of the restaurant more as warm temperatures send more people out to the front patio, as well as one being developed in the back.

Our table started out by sharing two of the small plates. The Fesunjoon Flatbread ($10) garnered cries of approval with its pomegranate arils, roasted squash, garlic, ground walnuts, caramelized onion and feta cheese in a balsamic reduction providing a flavorful treat for the palate. The long bread was cut into small pieces, making for easy sharing. One diner commented that she loved it enough to consider making a meal out of it another time.

We also tried the Kash-ebademjan ($9) an eggplant and walnut spread with toasted garlic, sundried Persian yogurt and fried mint that we applied to fluffy, fresh pita. The pita drew special comment from another tablemate, who notes that such bread often arrives hard and cold in other restaurants. And the spread itself offered a complex blend of flavors. The peak of service came with the presentation of the entrees. One of the disadvantages of a large table is that sometimes plates dribble out a bit at a time, with first-served guests politely waiting until everyone is served. At Milad, however, three servers swooped out at the same time, putting dishes in front of everyone in less than a minute. Hurrah!

For her entree, my guest made a wise choice, one of the specials: a trout stuffed with a mixture that included ground walnuts, barberry, garlic and tarragon ($20). She gave it a hearty thumbs-up, pronouncing it “tender, flaky and perfectly seasoned.” I was in full agreement after she shared a taste with me.

I opted for the Chenjeh (lamb kabob) ($17), with the local grassfed lamb meat marinated in mint.

I thought it was good, but just a little bit over the line to too dry and just slightly tough. A couple of my companions observed that a sauce might have enhanced the kabobs, if it were offered.

I was somewhat entranced by the mound of rice in the center of the plate. I usually think of rice as filler and was a little disappointed at first to see the quantity, but I soon gobbled much of it down. The long, thin basmati grains were given a good rinse initially to remove some of the starch, so they were nutty and not at all sticky. A powdered spice was sprinkled over the rice – sumac, I was told, a spice frequently used in that region’s cooking. Yummy.

Entrees also included a small portion of the Shirazi Salad, a diced mix of tomatoes, red onion and cucumber topped with mint and lemon. It was very good – one diner said she would have liked to see more of that on her vegetarian plate and less of the whole, unseasoned carrots and cucumbers.

We ended the meal by passing around two plates of stuffed dates ($6 each). It was the perfect grace note, with the feta stuffing mellowing out any sugary sharpness from the dates and the honey drizzled over them.

I’ll definitely go back.

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