by Saeed Alkurdi
Persian cuisine, a favored mistress of my home life. Containing strong flavors of garlic, turmeric, cardamon, and cloves, all playing together like a ballet on your tongue. It’s a delicious melody that is easy to fall in love with over and over again. However, finding a place in Fresno where Persian dishes are prepared as well as the recipes you’ve grown up with has proven to be challenging, but not entirely impossible.
Phoenician Gardens is that rare find that proved the impossible was possible. It’s a restaurant where one can sit back and enjoy a casual lunch or dinner. Take out is available in case you’d rather take your special order home. It’s a first class ticket escape from the grind of everyday food, minus the passport, complete with a wait staff that is equipped with excellent service and a kind disposition.
Inside, the restaurant is spacious, clean, and the interior design suits the name ‘Phoenician Gardens’ quite appropriately. There are booths available, along with tables which are comfortable and able to accommodate small parties of 2, upwards to medium sized parties of 6.
I arrived on a Saturday night and much to my surprise there was more than enough seating available leading me to believe that reservations aren’t necessary on a regular basis. I was immediately seated by the host and asked for my drink order, which arrived a minuted later. My order of lentil soup and kibbeh (seasoned meat fried in a shell of wheat grain) was the starter. Lamb shank was what I ordered as my entree. The lentil soup arrived within a few short minutes and was, to put it bluntly, magnificent. The soup was hot and perfectly seasoned with salt and lemon. A few bits of carrots were added for some sweetness, along with a touch of minced parsley… these small touches helped the appetizer sing. The kibbeh was piping hot, crispy on the outside and lightly seasoned on the inside. It also contained pine nuts on the inside which I thought were excellent.
When the lamb shank arrived it looked simply stunning, and in fact all the plates I could see leaving the kitchen appeared just as impressive as what I had in front of me. The lamb was fork-tender and perfectly seasoned with salt, allspice, cumin, cloves, and garlic. The vegetable accompaniment that stewed alongside the lamb was saturated with all the same juices and spices, which was utterly sublime. The rice was seasoned with turmeric and cooked exceptionally well. The remaining vegetables of squash and carrots were a little undercooked leaving them a little too crisp for my taste, however, they were seasoned and coated well with olive oil.
In the end, it was a wonderful meal thoroughly enjoyed by what I am sure is one of many happy customers. The dish, the environment, the service… like I said, a terrific escape from the daily grind, one I hope you’re able to enjoy yourself.