When I started Drawn and Devoured last January, Awtash (at College and Bathurst) made my short list. I passed it regularly, I loved the lettering in the signage, and the booths looked very intimate from the outside. I have a friend who grew up in Abu Dhabi so I wanted to bring him with me to see how the place lined up with his vision of home. Later I even found out I have a friend who did the graphic design that I liked so much (that's Kassem Ahmed, by the way)! So many reasons to go!
We even wound up at the door one night for dinner, only to realize they're closed on Mondays. This is something I always check for now. So what I'm saying is that Awtash has been hanging in front of me tauntingly for some time! It was really good to get JJ and Erin together to try it out at last. I was really hoping to experience some interesting, strong Persian flavours while lounging in their sexy booths, with the gorgeous lights and intimate curtains, maybe with a shisha pipe. This is probably the nicest-looking shisha lounge in Toronto- it's a rare indulgence for me, since I'm not a smoker. JJ brings lots back from his regular visits home, and the shisha at Awtash was just as good- they also didn't charge for coal refills! Something that happens a lot in Toronto shisha houses. We did get hung up on the semantics of calling a shisha pipe a hookah, but I wonder, does it really matter much so long as the end product is tasty?
Not to me.
For a Persian restaurant, the menu had a lot of Italian themed or inspired dishes. There were pizza's and panini-like sandwiches. Actually, more than half the menu was more Italian than Persian! I don't understand why. The Persian style food we had come for could be got mostly from the appetizers, and a couple of the flat breads, which were still riffing off Italian style food. I like innovation and pushing food boundaries though, so even though the menu came as a surprise, it wasn't by default a disappointment. We wanted to try one thing that sounded more middle eastern, at least. There were a half dozen choices of dips and spreads that made up the bulk of the starter choices, some more curious than others, and we ordered a mix platter called paaeez ($14) that had a selection of them all. It's a combo of six offerings, and was served with Barbary sesame bread, which is flaky with a crunchy crust like filo pastry, and hot soft insides. There REALLY wasn't enough for all the dips, and we had to order more (which cost a few bucks).
Zaytoon - These were big fatty olives. They was a mix of size, colour, and flavour, all doused in a glossy coat of olive oil, with some pickled mushroom tossed in the mix. Fresh and briny, not too salty.
Zaytoon Parvardeh - Olives again but smaller green ones, a bit sweeter than the other mix. These were completely smothered in a paste of oregano that became very overwhelming- if there were other herbs we couldn't taste them. Unfortunately the strong oregano even overwhelmed what had enticed me to try these olives, pomegranate molasses and walnut bits, which were just hints under the herb.
Hummus - Very creamy! This was a smooth and rich hummus with a lot or paprika on top that added a nice smoky smoothness. It was both light and nutty.
Boorani Spinach - Basically a tzatziki but not as zippy. This was smooth with blended garlic that added a pungent intensity.
Bademjoon - A richer and fresher side than the others we were served, this is basically a cold stew of tomato and eggplant. It was so garlicky and refreshing! There was a taste of honey amidst the strong tangy tomato taste, and it was good to have something that wasn't creamy to clear the taste buds.
Russia with Love - A weird dip that taste like potato salad, or devilled eggs as a spread. I really enjoyed this, and thought it was quite pretty with corn kernel studs. The sesame sprinkled on top really represented, adding a strong taste and little pops of crispness.
We wanted to try out one of the fusion style dishes, and ordered an Awtash stew-topped pizza. The fesenjoon ($12) comes with chicken, walnut and pomegranate stew, topped with tiny diced pieces of sweet pineapple. So this is an Italian Hawaiian pizza with a Persian twist? Oh my. The dough was hot, floury and super fresh, very simple. It was a bit underwhelming, maybe because it didn't seem robust enough to hold up to the stew. The stew itself was sweet from the pomegranate, and was more like a sauce than a stew. I thought of teriyaki without the soy. There was nothing in the texture that was stew like sadly, no thickness or chunks of meat (where WAS the meat?). There wasn't much to give it interest, or much to chew on. Even the cheese was very mild, timid. I think I liked the crust with its sesame studs more than the main body of the pizza.
Rather than racking up a meal of many mains, we went right for the desserts after that pizza. Erin hadn't tried anything made with rosewater before. I like it occasionally, though it can be like getting a face full of perfume if too strong. She and I split the rose water waffle ($7), which we hoped would be a gentle introduction to the flowery flavor. The batter that made the lattice-like waffles was thin and crisp. It had what I can only call a fizzy quality, like carbonation in the bread, that crackled across the tongue. We got a bit of a shock with the strength of the rose! It was powerful, not mild at all. The ice cream, which claimed to be pistachio on the menu but was clearly strawberry, was milky and not too flavourful.
JJ got a dessert to himself, he was still very hungry. There were a couple dessert flat breads on the menu, including the nuts & banana ($7) which sounded intriguing. Nuts, banana, and strawberry slices? Toasted? Well, try it! The thing was HUGE. It was fully the size of the largest panini you can imagine, served on a bigger version of that fluffy, crackly Barbary bread, though lacking the sesame seeds. It was kind of a big mess, though. The whole thing wouldn't stay together. It was like a crepe gone wrong, where the bread didn't work with the slippery stuffing. The strawberries melted into jam in the heat, and lost all their flavor. It was impressively big, with had no flavor to make anyone want to finish it. Better to have a small and well made dessert than this boring monster.
Everything had had a fluffy and airy effect (even the flatbread dessert), so we weren't even close to full. at the end
I'd like to drop a special note about the service, which really wasn't there. The girls were nice enough...when they were around. We had coal refills forgotten twice, and the servers were very dismissive of our obvious dissatisfaction. The shisha pipes hadn't been cleaned from the night before, and tasted like old shisha. Getting anyones attention was nearly impossible, and we'd go for 40 minutes without anyone asking us if we wanted more beer, or dessert. Speaking of beer, the servers should pay better attention to the menu. If you're advertising a large Sapporo, and come out with a small bottle, I will be confused! Especially when the price suits the larger size. That's the sort of thing a server should tell you right off the bat- I don't really think our server knew much about the menu at all. Then again, Awtash is a place set for the pre-party crowd for whom the menu is secondary. Maybe because we didn't get one of their $200 bottles of vodka (more expensive even than some King West clubs), they didn't feel a strong need to cater to us- they didn't have any interesting boozes from the middle east either, which is a shame because Arak is darn tasty.