While Valhalla burned, I ate saffron chicken kebobs and drank vodka and pomegranate juice.
I should explain. Through a series of fortunate events, my wife and I managed to slip out after work last night and head over to Banu, a popular new spot on Queen Street West.
I walk in, freshly shorn, with my beautiful wife sitting at an aqua-blue plastic bar stool (you can see them here! Does anyone else think those are teal? Not enough green in them to my eye).
The place is all clean lines, with pale blue mosaic tables, and comfy white bench seating for dinner. Just past the open kitchen, I noticed an upstairs loungish-looking area, perfect for a late evening or a small gathering. My wife had ordered a vodka and cranberry, and I followed her lead with the aforementioned vodka and pomegranate.
We sit at the bar, and, between gazing into each other's ever so gently inebriated eyes, check out their menu, which is both short and interesting.
It's all salads, dips and kebobs. This may sound like a lack of choice, until you start to see what they're willing to put on a skewer and into a flame. Beef heart, lamb, prawns, testicles, it's pretty much all there. Although I had an offal hankering for the delights of organ meat, my wife is disinclined towards cooked testicles, and given it's summer, we went safe, and ordered a a selection of their salads, dips and their saffron chicken breast skewers.
Then one of the waiters mentioned there was a fire outside. We had, somehow, missed all this. We looked outside, and sure enough, there was a fire about half a block down on the same side of the street. There were also fire trucks. And then more fire trucks. And then the Fire Command Truck. And then the Hazardous Materials Unit Truck. And then police cars. I suddenly wished my toddler son were here, as he would have gone mad with all these giant fire-fighting machines!
The centre of the conflagration was a card and gift shop named Valhalla. Seriously. It was impossible to keep the last act of Götterdämmerung from playing in my mind. (Note to COC- this is what Valhalla-burning should look like, not the Macdonald's heat lamp glow your artistic team thought would be an appropriate ending to your current Ring Cycle...)
Then the food came. We had the nan o paneer, which was bread, goat's cheese and walnuts, a salad, the citrus-saffron chicken breast, and, thanks to an error in our favour, the kashkeh bademjan, a delightful eggplant dip that only needed a spritz of lemon to make it perfect. Accompanying all these dishes was copious amounts of flat bread, cut into strips for ideal sharing and scooping.
The chicken was revelatory - moist, succulent, its flavour as bright as its saffron-dyed flesh. The dips and salads were refreshing, and we left the main course full. We finished the meal with some Iranian tea (black tea with cardamom), served with dates and sweet chickpea cookes, and a pomegranate sorbet.
At this point, you’re probably wondering, so what about the hookah? Or, given this was an Iranian restaurant, the ghalyan? They had one, but it was not to be.
We were about to sit outside, which is, in smoke-free Toronto, the last place you can smoke, when a couple, who appeared to be tourists (well, they looked like tourists, shorts and fanny packs and the like), sat down at the lone patio seat and proceeded to smoke it themselves. We were thwarted! But we’ll be back.
I should also mention that the service is gracious and unpretentious, and the prices reasonable. Most of all, despite the location, the place has managed already to show a depth of character in what is arguably the trendiest strip in the city. A great place for dinner and probably an even better one for a night of drinking and talking. I highly recommend it.
Banu’s at 777 Queen Street West. Phone number’s 416 777 2268.