Cottonwood Heights • The lemonade is bright green from all the blended mint, and it pops with real ginger. The olive appetizer, marinated in pomegranate syrup, zings. And the chicken stew is tart, sweet and silky.
The authentic Persian cuisine served at Sumac Café provides a lovely medley of flavors and textures, with dishes spiked with pistachios, flavored with saffron and sumac, stuffed with herbs, rubbed with spices.
Elham Sadegh moved from Iran six years ago. She opened the restaurant last December in a spot where she was running a coffee shop. She had been catering meals with her Persian dishes on the side, and “everybody told me, ‘We need this delicious food. ... You have to change the coffee shop to a restaurant.’”
So she did, with the help of another owner and cook, and now she’s serving recipes she learned from her mother and grandmother in Tehran. She named the restaurant for the reddish-purple, citrusy spice she uses in the kabobs because of its antioxidant power.
The space, on Bengal Boulevard next to another restaurant, is small with elegant touches like fresh flowers and black tablecloths. It serves stews, kabobs, salads, several appetizers and a small selection of wine and beer. There’s also Persian and saffron teas ($1.99-$2.99), the ginger lemonade ($4.99) and something called doogh ($2.99), described as a bubbly yogurt, water and mint.
We tried four appetizers and all were excellent. The kashk bademjoon ($7.99) is pesto-like, made with walnuts, sautéed eggplant and garlic and a skim of whey (the kashk part of the name) floating on top. It’s served with thin triangles of warmed pita. That bowl of tangy olives is called zeitoon parvardeh ($5.99). The mast o’kheeyar ($4.99) is yogurt mixed with herbs and cucumbers and cools the palate, while mirza ghasemee ($6.99) is a warm eggplant dip, made with tomatoes, garlic and a runny egg served on top.
All were good on their own but they go really well with the kabobs and stews.
The kabobs are juicy and tender and spiced with saffron, sumac, turmeric and black pepper, says Sadegh. The portions are plenty for two people, especially with the large amount of saffron-tinged rice that accompanies them. Beef comes either ground and molded into a skewer (called koobideh, $12.99), or as thinly sliced cuts of filet mignon (called barg, $17.99). Chicken is available as a kabob ($12.99) or comes on a platter as a whole Cornish hen ($17.99). All of them are served with whole roasted tomatoes and raw onion slices. Diners can combine the two beef kabobs, or the chicken with beef.
Four stews round out the menu, also served with heaping rice. The fessenjan ($14.99) with large chunks of chicken was so good — sweet, tangy with pomegranate sauce and rich from the pureed walnuts. Sadegh cooks it for several hours.
I can see why Samin Nosrat, probably the most famous Persian-American chef, recently named fessenjan as one of her top 10 essential Persian dishes. The author of “Salt Fat Acid Heat” (who also stars in the same-named Netflix docuseries) recently explained in The New York Times that the stew, practically considered the national dish, comes from northern Iran where the main ingredients grow.
Two other dishes she mentioned also are on Sumac Café’s menu: The shirazi salad ($4.99), made of cucumbers, tomatoes, mint and onions served with lime juice and olive oil. It was something we didn’t try, but will next time. The cucumber yogurt dish was another essential bite, since it’s also a staple.
Don’t forget dessert. We skipped the baklava ($2.99) and tiramisu ($4.99) for the more unusual saffron rice pudding made with rose water and almond (sholeh zard, $3.99) and saffron ice cream (bastani zafferani, $5.99). They aren’t as sweet as Western versions but have an intriguing flavor and are dusted with chopped pistachios.
Sadegh says she opened the restaurant in part to satisfy Persians living in Utah who miss a taste of home. Her food is also making those of us who are new to the delights of Persian dishes crave those flavors, too.
Sumac Cafe • ★★★ (out of ★★★★) This authentic Persian restaurant serves kabobs, stews and appetizers packed with spices and herbs and zipping with tangy and sweet flavors.
Food • ★★★
Mood • ★★★
Service • ★★★
Noise • 1 bell
Location • 2578 E. Bengal Blvd, Cottonwood Heights; 801-733-4444
Online • sumaccafeslc.com
Hours • Tuesdays-Thursdays, 11 a.m.-9 p.m.; Fridays-Saturdays, 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Sundays, 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Closed Mondays.
Children’s menu • No
Prices • $-$$$
Liquor • Wine and beer
Reservations • Yes
Takeout • Yes
Wheelchair access • Yes
Outdoor dining • Yes
On-site parking • Yes
Credit cards • Yes