Stick with the appetizers at Zare at Fly Trap, and you’ll roll away contented and with plenty of money left for a cab ride home.
There aren’t many Persian restaurants in San Francisco (a shame), though Zare at Fly Trap in SOMA doesn’t serve traditional Persian food anyway. To wit, you can order a pork shoulder. Chef Hoss Zarè was raised in Tabriz, Iran but schooled in Italian cooking thanks to former posts at Ristorante Ecco and Aromi. His exciting menu casts a California aesthetic (local, seasonal) on modern Persian cooking with plenty of Mediterranean influences.
Start with beef meatballs, which come nestled in a zingy red wine sauce laced with harissa and sweetened with pomegranate and honey. A few pistachios pock their lush interiors. Note that it’s three balls to an order, so if you have a party of four, you’d better get two. Or, visit during Meatball Mondays and opt for the special ball of the day, a giant orb of beef and veal enveloping one outrageous meaty surprise – anything from lamb chops to roasted quail.
No Persian meal can commence without kashk bademjan, a beige and sludgy eggplant dip. In Chef Zarè’s version, a whole eggplant lounges across sourdough toasts, the interior cooked to a perfect mush. Swashes of yogurt lend creaminess while a topping of zucchini chips deliver crunch. The best part is the bread after it’s had a chance to sponge the toppings.
Another twist on a classic mezze, and the most creative dish on the menu, is Zarè’s version of a dolma. Collard greens replace grape leaves as the wrapper for warm, oozing Cana de Oveja cheese, which stands in for the traditional filling of rice or lamb. This pungent sheep’s milk cheese makes the dish much richer than the two green-leafed packages would suggest. Like everything on the menu, nuts make an appearance. In this case, it’s spiced pistachios, cashews, and sunflower seeds.
Perhaps the most surprising item on the menu is the fig salad, simply because it could have been boring but isn’t. A huge portion of lollo rosso, a red and ruffled lettuce, mingles with a generous strew of quartered green and black figs, spears of jicama, pecans, gorgonzola, and crisp flat squares of bacon.
The staff exudes Middle Eastern hospitality. A request to the waiter and maître d’ to expedite dishes in order to accommodate one of our guests who needed to leave early resulted in lightening service that never felt rushed. Chef Zarè meanders through the dark dining room greeting customers with the smile of a man who knows he’s doing his job well.
Bottom Line: For upscale Persian food with Mediterranean flare, order an assortment of small plates at Zare at Fly Trap.