When you first enter the warm, inviting oasis of Sofreh, a pricey Persian restaurant near Barclays Center, the scent of tantalizing spices floods your nostrils, stimulating an intense appetite with every inhale. Sleek, white brick walls are decorated only with the occasional plant, and the chic minimalist space is enlivened by the cheerful din of satisfied diners sharing a memorable meal among friends.
Sofreh originally referred to the fabric traditionally used for decorations during Persian celebrations, but its meaning has since evolved to describe a gathering of loved ones. Nasim Alikhani, chef and owner of Sofreh — which she opened in 2018 at the age of 59 — is familiar with the sort of familial gathering that the restaurant is centered around. Growing up in Iran, she enjoyed cooking at home with her mother as well as for larger groups of people. She moved to the United States in 1983 after studying law at Tehran University, and after working various jobs (including nannying and catering), attending the International Culinary Center and interning at restaurants realized she wanted to open her very own.
Sofreh truly has a dreamy feel to it. Patient waiters eagerly help diners navigate the menu, which is primarily meant for (unsurprisingly) sharing. A simple frisee and baby lettuce salad with whipped feta, pistachios and pomegranate seeds, along with a satisfyingly savory feta flatbread ($14) — an iteration of their house-made fermented bread, showered with herbs is a beautiful introduction to a delicious meal.
Main dishes like smoky eggplant-tomato stew with poached eggs ($23), tender chicken with sweet barberries in a tangy saffron sauce ($27) and a delightfully pink ribeye with grilled sweet baby onions, roasted baby tomatoes and pomegranate seeds ($38) are best paired with an assortment of sides and sauces which enhance (if not make) the meal. A simple shiraz salad of tomatoes and cucumber ($10), in addition to a refreshing yogurt sauce with roasted shallots ($5), elevate the flavors and balance the spice. We ordered two rice dishes after our server informed us that rice was essential to our dining experience: one perfumed with orange zest and flecked with carrot coins ($8), the other taking on a green hue from an abundance of herbs ($8) — both of which served as the perfect vessel to soak up the various sauces.
My sole complaint was that the dishes lacked any sort of heat, but what the meal lacked in temperature it made up for in flavor. This one slight blemish of an otherwise-fabulous meal was quickly forgotten as the conversation grew more intimate, the food on the various platters slowly disappearing. Glasses were empty and bellies were full, but not so much as to refuse the saffron-rose-pistachio ice cream ($8) — a luscious, refreshing end to a perfect evening, our own familial gathering in Nasim Alikhani’s home away from home.
Email Matigan King at [email protected]