Each week, Patch picks a great restaurant either in town or nearby that is worth checking out. This week, we look at the Narenj Persian Grill in the mall off Mountain View Boulevard in Basking Ridge.
25 Mountain View Blvd.
Heading out to Narenj Persian Grill for dinner on a Friday night, as I have often done, always feels like a bit of an escape from the everyday.
It isn't only that there is a break from the workweek, but also that the menu and atmosphere are different from any other restaurant I know of in northern Somerset County. Manager Farzan Dadgar said Narenj has been open for about two and a half years, and he can think of nothing similar nearby.
There are some things I've tried on the menu I hadn't had elsewhere (Khoresht-e-Fesenjoon), along with good versions of hummus and kabobs that have become staples among the international foods that many people eat on a regular basis.
Variations on the kabobs are some of the main offerings on the Narenj menu, which is printed online.
Both my dining partner and I have had — and enjoyed — chicken kabobs, charbroiled and marinated strips of chicken, for dinner, at $14.95.
Patrick also has had the salmon kabobs, charbroiled chunks of salmon filet marinated with a mix of lemon, saffron, onion and olive oil, at $18.95. He said he enjoyed that dish and, in general, everything he's had at the restaurant.
All entrees are served with the choice of a garden salad or saffron basmati rice, and a side of cucumber yogurt or Salad Shirazi. We both agreed we preferred the cucumber yogurt, good for a topping on pita bread, to the Salad Shirazi. The Salad Shirazi is a chopped salad featuring cucumbers, tomatoes, onions and fresh herbs and topped with our house dressing — interesting, but I just didn't like the texture.
One dish (an experiment) I did enjoy was the Khoresht-e-Fesenjoon, ($14.95) a stew with sautéed boneless chicken simmered in a pomegranate and crushed walnut sauce. Of course, I do like pomegranate, which imparts a distinctly tangy flavor.
Although hummus is available in almost any supermarket, Narenj's appetizer version ($5.95, served with pita bread) is superior. It's a blend of garbanzo beans pureed with fresh garlic, lemon, tahini and olive oil, with a smooth texture and fragrant blend of spices and lemon — not too tart!
Patrick, too, is a fan of the hummus and said he also especially likes Narenj's rendition of another mideast appetizer, Baba Ganoush ($5.95), grilled eggplant with fresh garlic and tahini.
But whether I've thought a meal was okay — or really good — I've enjoyed relaxing at Narenj's garden-like atmosphere, usually with a meal accompanied by wine.
Narenj is a B.Y.O.B. establishment, and we've had everything from Sauvignon Blanc, a light and bright white that Patrick said had paired well with salmon, to Pinot Noir or other reds for chicken. And a red wine went well with that pomegranate dish!
I returned for a final meal this week with my son, who likes spicy foods. We both ordered from a sandwich/platter meal available only for lunch. I had a chicken kabob sandwich, served as a wrap ($7.95) with the cucumber yogurt salad.
But even better was his Gyro platter ($7.95) — sliced and seasoned beef topped with tahini sauce and feta cheese. Served as a platter instead of a sandwich, the seasoned beef was laid on open-faced sandwich and served with small side of rice, garden salad and cucumber yogurt. The beef was delicious! Our only complaint about the lunch was that the pita bread was served with butter, when something like the cucumber yogurt or even a smaller version of the veggie and feta sampler served at night would have been much better.
Service: Polite, subdued and usually efficient
Atmosphere: Booths or tables in what I presume is made to look like an indoor Persian garden. A wall fountain, art and other decorations are soothing and interesting.
Drinks: Along with standard non-alcoholic drinks, the restaurant serves Turkish coffee and Persian hot tea. I've had the sweet mango lassi, ($3.50) common at many Indian restaurants.