The full spread (courtesy Masquerade)
Dec 1, 2021
New Williamsburg tapas bar serves Iranian treats for under $12
In the midst of a Persian cuisine renaissance, Masquerade brings ambiance that feels as authentic as the food
Masquerade, a new Iranian tapas bar in East Williamsburg, seeks to emulate a version of Iran that hasn’t been popularized yet. Opened recently by co-owners Pouya Esghai and Siavash Karampour, the eatery offers a look at “an imaginary Tehran that blends 1970s Iran with New York in 2021, with an element of Mardi Gras thrown in,” in their words.
New York is in the midst of an Iranian restaurant boom. From Colbeh, one of the first on the scene, to Shiraz Kitchen in Manhattan and, more recently, Park Slope’s critically-acclaimed Sofreh and its Bushwick spinoff Sofreh Cafe, Persian cuisine is well and respectfully represented on this side of the Atlantic.
And yet, although the food presented at each one of those establishments surely tastes Iranian, there is something to be said about the ambiance they offer, which harks back to a post-revolutionary Iran that we all have come to think of as permanent. But, according to the two expatriate restaurateurs, there is a different, more modern (even Western) aspect to the country that deserves attention, one that evokes the sorts of cultural pursuits that had defined Iran before the 1979 revolution.
“The traditional Persian restaurants are outdated,” says Karampour. “They don’t cater to the modern tastes of the young Iranians. The dishes are so cliche—kabobs, kabobs and kabobs. I think the newer generation feels the need to have a better representation in terms of taste, especially in New York.”
On one recent weekday visit, there is something chaotically beautiful about the space, something that captures the essence of what a fully modern Iran might actually feel like. It might have been the table of Iranians speaking about vaccines, love affairs and the power of teaching entirely in Farsi, perhaps, or the truly authentic flavors defining every single one of the eight dishes on the menu. As a visitor, I felt the magnetic pull of the 1960s and 1970s Iran that my own mother and grandmother constantly talk about.
All priced at $12 or under, the list of mezzes on offer showcases a very small portion of the Iranian culinary canon—no kabob and no khoresht at Masquerade, a fact that feels surprising when looking at the menu, but feels right on the mark when actually dining there. From a perfectly dressed salad shirazi (cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, shallots, mint, tarragon and basil) to the tahchin (crispy Basmati rice with saffron, yogurt, egg yolk, barbaries and pistacchio) and the refreshing noon paneer sabzi (Greek farm feta, mint, tarragon, Thai basil, toasted walnuts, radishes, barbare bread and cilantro), the food is as potently flavorful as you’d want Iranian food to be and, surprisingly, given the portions of each order, incredibly filling.
Outstanding among the dishes is the kookoo. The Persian egg frittata is made with parsley, fenugreek, coriander, dill, garlic, turmeric, onion, pomegranate molasses, barbaries and walnut and, although all things fried are always delicious, there is something so balanced, tastefully done and fulfilling about the kookoo that ties the entire meal together.
Although the food on premise is tasty, the cocktails fall a bit short. The folks at Masquerade earn points for their eclectic bar creations, which try to mimic the flavors of a country that’s technically dry by incorporating ingredients like turmeric, lavashak, sumac salt and cardamon. But the drinks aren’t potent enough, flavor-wise. Perhaps a double dose of cardamom and whiskey might help?
Overall, Masquerade is, put simply, a very good restaurant that carves a space for itself in the local Iranian food scene by offering something completely different from what New York palates are used to. Add to that the beautiful, high-end interiors and a gentle staff, and you’ve got yourself a go-to slice of an idealized Tehran in East Williamsburg.
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