A new Persian empire

Saffron Grill Cuisine

Saffron Grill Cuisine

1300 East Bidwell St.
Folsom, CA 95630

(916) 984-6800

You should know by now that Sacramento is one of the most diverse cities in the country—more so than Los Angeles or New York. Look no further than the kaleidoscopic variety of cuisines on offer in the region as proof. You can travel the globe by flavor within 25 square miles.

Diners can even try a taste trip to Iran via the Persian restaurant Saffron Grill Cuisine. In its second year, this family-run spot is an inviting way to experience something new.

Saffron Grill is run by an Iranian-born husband and wife who base their dishes on family recipes. As with other Middle Eastern cuisines, the menu features rice, stews, salads and nuts. Persian food, though, is characterized by lots of saffron, pomegranates, walnuts and a sweet-and-sour profile. The restaurant space is small but warmly decorated, with twinkling lights and saffron-hued walls.

We started with hummus, since it’s a familiar dish, but the Saffron Grill version is unique. Flavored with lots of cumin and tahini, their take on the ubiquitous dip is a revelation. We liked it so much we ate it with a spoon and over rice, although it’s served with a flatbread called taftoon. Somewhat similar to lavash, the taftoon was warm but a bit too chewy.

The Persian olive salad is another great starter here; made with pomegranate juice and finely ground walnuts thickly coating the pitted olives, it’s got a sweet/savory balance.

For entrees, a Persian friend advised us to try koobideh. It’s made with lamb or beef, and we tried the latter, which was finely ground and mixed with lots of flavorful spices, then grilled on a skewer. One of the owners came over to make sure we knew to sprinkle it with sumac, the tart ground flavoring made from dried berries.

The meat was juicy and chock full of flavor, even more so with the requisite sumac.

The cumin chicken was another meaty choice; here it consists of large chunks of marinated chicken grilled and served—as all entrees are—with long-grain rice and a grilled tomato. While the chicken was well-seasoned and beautifully presented, it was also just a bit dry. Topped with some of the hummus, though, it was delicious.

There are several versions of the stew called gheymeh, which is based on cooked split peas with onions and tomato. The vegetarian option arrived with chunks of potatoes and slivered fried potatoes on top. It was the best dish we tried and the portion was generous. In contrast, the beef gheymeh was served with small chunks of meltingly tender meat and a garnish of stewed eggplant.

The fesenjoon is another stew worth trying. It features a thick mole-like sauce of pureed walnuts and pomegranate juice over braised chicken. The dark sauce tasted fairly sweet and intriguingly complex. The chicken was so tender and moist it shredded with each bite.

A combo platter of main course options or a traditional Persian tray of various appetizers makes for a nice way to sample a few dishes. Be sure to order one of the yogurts mixed with eggplant, shallots or cucumber to top the meats as well.

Saffron Grill also offers several unique drinks and desserts. Dough is club soda with yogurt and mint that’s available by the glass or pitcher. The special Saffron drink (sekanjebin khiar) is a refreshing combination of mint and vinegar syrups with cucumber and lime. The sour and sweet flavors would be especially good in hot weather.

We tried the Persian saffron rice pudding for dessert, and it’s unlike any other we’ve tasted. The rice was cooked until it dissolved into a thick puree, then heavily seasoned with saffron and rosewater. Lots of toasted sliced almonds on top added a welcome crunch.

The servers are welcoming and happy to answer questions on the food. Make a special trip if you don’t live nearby, as this is a family business run with lots of passion.