A wel­come — and tasty — re­li­a­bil­ity

Or­chard Mar­ket & Cafe of­fers con­sis­tent Mid­dle East­ern fa­vorites

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - REAL ESTATE - By Suzanne Lou­d­er­milk

The menu at the Or­chard Mar­ket & Cafe in Tow­son hasn’t changed much since 1997, and I don’t want it to.

That’s the year that Nahid Vaezpour and her daugh­ter and son-in-law, Sharareh and Ja­son Bulke­ley, took over the restau­rant.

“We keep what­ever peo­ple have re­quested from the menu,” said Sharareh Bulke­ley. “Ev­ery­one has a fa­vorite.”

The din­ing room in shades of mel­low olive and mus­tard has also sur­vived the test of time. It’s old-fash­ioned but en­dear­ing, like a fa­vorite el­derly aunt.

Col­umns, pho­tos and ta­pes­tries cre­ate a Mid­dle East­ern at­mos­phere to com­ple­ment the Per­sian dishes made from family recipes; Vaezpour used to do all the cook­ing at the restau­rant be­fore she re­tired last year.

Now Bulke­ley, her sis­ter, Hideh Kamoei, and sous chef Pe­dro Diaz pre­pare items such as barg — skew­ered beef ten­der­loin with toma­toes and onions — and chicken fe­s­en­june , an Ira­nian fa­vorite, with poached chicken in a wal­nut-pome­gran­ate sauce.

The restau­rant, which opened in 1988, sold var­i­ous food prod­ucts in its early days — hence, the mar­ket part of the restau­rant’s name. That was dis­con­tin­ued years ago to fo­cus on din­ing.

The restau­rant is BYOB with no cork­age fee. A server sets the table with wine glasses if you’ve brought a bot­tle and hands you a corkscrew.

On Wed­nes­days, there is live mu­sic with no cover charge. (There are ex­cep­tions for spe­cial events.) We had the plea­sure of lis­ten­ing to a harp­si­chordist while mak­ing our way through a mostly de­li­cious meal.

The big­gest de­rail­ment of the evening was the Per­sian-style paella, a reg­u­lar spe­cial, our waiter said. It sounded promis­ing, with shrimp, scal­lops, mus­sels, clams, fish, cala­mari, chicken and veg­eta­bles in a gar­lic curry sauce tossed with bas­mati rice.

But some­thing about the taste of the dish, in ad­di­tion to the over­cooked seafood, was off-putting. We or­dered a serv­ing for two with­out check­ing on the cost. The por­tion is huge, but so is the price at $38.95.

We had a bet­ter ex­pe­ri­ence with the rest of our dishes, start­ing with sev­eral aro­matic ap­pe­tiz­ers, in­clud­ing the mush­room za­ban.

The slices of cur­ried poached beef tongue, sauteed with onions and por­to­bello mush­rooms, were as ten­der and de­lec­ta­ble as homey meat­balls. We lapped up the sauce with warm pita tri­an­gles.

We also liked the gooey Bul­gar­ian feta dot­ting a sauteed stew of toma­toes, onions and black olives, and an­other dish, haleem bademjune, which was sim­i­lar to baba ghanoush. The gar­licky egg­plant and bean spread was en­hanced with sour cream and wal­nuts.

Af­ter tast­ing the aash-o-reshteh soup, we anointed the agree­able broth — thick with lentils, kid­ney beans, chick­peas and ver­mi­celli noo­dles — our new go-to com­fort food.

In a kitchen mix-up, we ended up with a mango pear salad, and af­ter one look at the beau­ti­ful dish, we were happy to hang on to it. The mixed greens glis­tened with a del­i­cate pome­gran­ate vinai­grette and were topped with ripe man­goes and pears jux­ta­posed with a zippy block of white Bul­gar­ian feta cheese.

Be­sides the paella, we or­dered two other en­trees, which were ex­cel­lent. The spicy ker­mani beef show­cased sauteed slices of filet mignon, mush­rooms, other veg­eta­bles Open: and peper­oncini in a tomato-gar­lic curry sauce.

I have been a fan of the shirin polo — “sun­shine on a plate,” our server said — for years. The dish al­ways sat­is­fies me with the juicy chicken pieces swabbed with a sweet orange-mango sauce and nes­tled next to saf­fron rice adorned with car­rots, orange peel, cur­rants and raisins.

We ended with desserts that are made in-house, in­clud­ing a Napoleon with stel­lar saf­fron ice cream and an­other treat, a lush sponge cake with a creamy fill­ing and fruit. We also en­joyed a crispy kataifi, a pas­try that looks like it’s been rolled in shred­ded wheat.

Over the years, the Or­chard Mar­ket & Cafe has played a lead role in in­tro­duc­ing the com­mu­nity to the ex­otic in­gre­di­ents of Per­sian cook­ing. It’s al­ways a plea­sure to reac­quaint my­self with its con­sis­tent charms.

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