After I arrived at Sofreh Cafe on Varet Avenue, proprietor Nasim Alikhani was making small chickpea cardamom sweets whereas she in contrast recipes with an Iranian grandmother on the opposite aspect of the counter. The grandmother lamented the shortage of chickpea flour again dwelling in Utah.
At a communal desk within the middle of the cafe, a pair performed backgammon on an ornate board. The sounds of consumers conversing in English and Farsi stuffed the area. I ordered a tea, and the barista held it as much as the sunshine to verify its colour.
“You’re searching for readability,” he advised me. “You’re searching for the amber colour. Because the tea is poured for purchasers, you’re refilling the kettle. To, form of, predict the power of the tea is one thing that I’m studying from Nasim.”
The partitions of Sofreh Cafe are uncovered brick coated in spotty white paint, and crops hold from a skylight within the ceiling. The toilet partitions are papered with Iranian advertisements from the 70s. The whole lot has a simplicity to it, whereas nonetheless managing to appear intentional. The cafe is atmospheric but additionally one way or the other cozy. The format and communal seating system forces folks into dialog with one another, making the cafe a dynamic assembly place.
“Should you have a look at the design of espresso retailers in Iran, it’s mind-boggling,” Alikhani advised me. “I’ll present folks photos, and so they say ‘the place is that this? Amsterdam?’”
“Iran has been demonized, has been portrayed in a really monolithic approach,” she continued. “I simply need to present the way in which Iran was and nonetheless is. There are such a lot of languages, so many cultures inside Iran. It’s so fashionable on the identical time. I need to strive not solely to point out the tradition right here of what Iran at the moment is, however I additionally need to join it to the previous, to the previous I do know.”
The Iranian type is dignified. It’s easy in its ornamentation however has a placing magnificence. Sofreh Cafe captures this. Sitting within the cafe, you’re feeling a bit like you might be within the nation.
Along with the cafe, Alikhani and her associate Ali Saboor, who’s the pinnacle chef at Sofreh’s famed Prospect Heights restaurant, are opening a brand new full-service restaurant subsequent door, with a barely completely different take than the place in Prospect Heights. That is apparently how the concept for the cafe emerged, as there was further area within the new restaurant that might be used for one thing completely different.
Under the cafe is the bakery, and Alikhani advised me that the brand new restaurant, named EYVAL, can have a larger deal with breads. Sofreh Cafe serves many of those breads, and its fermented barbari bread is considered one of its specialities.
The barabari bread is agency however chewy. It’s sprinkled with sesame and nigella seeds. The nigella seeds will not be conventional within the Iranian recipe, as I used to be advised by Saboor, however they offer the bread a slight natural spiciness that enhances the feel.
Whereas Sofreh Cafe serves the usual roster of espresso drinks, the cafe’s actual specialty is tea. Sofreh Cafe’s tea is a darkish brownish-red and served, ideally, with out milk in a small glass cup and saucer.
“Whereas you’ll find nice espresso retailers in New York, Iran has a tea tradition. You by no means enter someplace in Iran and get tea to go. It’s like blasphemy nearly. Even in a busy Tehran day, folks sit down.”
The tea has a deep colour, however the taste is gentle, with a slight astringent bitterness and a clean physique. It’s made with black tea, rose petals, cinnamon and cardamom, amongst different spices. The flavour is, just like the cafe itself, refined and understated. However the tea is addictive, and I drank a number of cups on my go to.
Lots of Sofreh Cafe’s sweets, together with its custard donut, are made with rose-petals. Alikhani advised me that whereas lots of the components come from an Iranian provider, she usually brings the rose petals again from Iran “in a suitcase.”
“We encourage folks to take time for his or her tea, to take a seat with their mates, to take time with their sweets. Right here will not be Midtown Manhattan, the place everyone seems to be operating. Right here, persons are artists. It’s a neighborhood. I’m hoping folks come and say ‘Let’s go for a cup of tea’.”
The perfect compliments for the tea are small cookies and sweets which can be made with a number of various kinds of flour, every with a extremely particular style and texture. Many are vegan. The fresh-baked barbari bread will be complemented with jam, butter or a whipped feta cheese.
Alikhani and Saboor picked Bushwick for Sofreh Cafe and the brand new restaurant EYVAL due to the variety of the neighborhood. They stated they need a youthful, artsier really feel for EYVAL and a menu grounded in conventional Iranian delicacies however with fashionable interpretations.
The area for EYVAL will not be but completed. As I walked by means of it all the way down to the kitchen, I observed under me a ground of darkish turquoise tile, contrasting the white tile partitions.
Within the bakery, Saboor was pulling recent baked bread from the oven. The brand new area, he stated, would focus extra on these breads and light-fire cooking. Saboor grew up within the States and has cooked basic Italian meals, American meals and barbeque, however he’s now cooking recipes he grew up with. His aunt owned an Iranian restaurant in Orange County, California, which was the place he began cooking.
“After I bought out, I advised myself I’d by no means work in a restaurant once more, however right here I’m.”
Saboor provided me a beef piroshki and advised me that Iranian delicacies is closely influenced by Russian delicacies and meals from the Caspian area. Rising up, he stated, his mother’s beef stroganoff was considered one of his favourite issues.
Sofreh Cafe is a excellent place to spend a day or morning. The baked items are made with clear precision and a focus to element, and their flavors are refined however impactful. What actually struck me was the multicultural and communal vibe of the place, which turned rapidly obvious upon getting into. It was according to Alikhani’s and Saboor’s rationalization of their imaginative and prescient, a spot the place folks can come collectively to take trip from their busy lives, join with mates and benefit from the wealthy tradition of Iran.
Sofreh Cafe is situated at 252 Varet St. off the Jefferson L Cease.
All Photographs: Guthrie London
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