You might say The Pomegranate is responsible for turning exotic Iranian dishes like fesenjaan and aloo gheysi into household names for Torontonians. Danielle Schrage, co-owner and front of house manager, has collaborated with her husband Alireza Fakhrashrafi, co-owner and head chef, to reinvent the Iranian dining experience.
Danielle met Alireza (who is originally from Tehran) while immersed in Iranian Studies. After collaborating together on an Iranian print magazine, the couple decided to explore the cultures’ tastes more literally. Both were from academic backgrounds with no formal training in the restaurant business. Alireza “just happened to be a really good, obsessive cook,” Danielle explains. She recalls that her friends were concerned about their decision to open a restaurant, but their skepticism was only fuel for the fire. “Nobody had confidence in us,” Danielle laughs.
The couple approached the endeavor as researchers — observing the history, listening to peoples’ stories and experiences and recreating that for their community. With the knowledge, talent and passion, surely they had the right ingredients to make this work.
The Pomegranate on College Street first opened in 2004 and is now one of three restaurants owned by the duo. Of the three, this is the place for authentic home-style slow cooking as enjoyed in Iran.
The mandate of the chef’s close-knit team at The Pomegranate is to offer clean, simple, slow-cooked food with no additives. Alireza works to innovate his dishes, not simply to replicate them. The signature dish, fesenjaan (a stew of walnut and pomegranate syrup), is very popular, but curious diners should also ask about specials not on the menu.
Danielle could speak for days about the exotic ingredients used to create the authentic Iranian dishes. The couple travels back to Iran every year, bringing with them new spices to add to the menu. Some ingredients, like saffron, must be imported from Iran. This is challenging, but necessary for the authenticity of the food.
Over time, regular visitors have become well versed with the menu. “My goal is to feel that this cuisine that has spread out to become the norm and these dishes are now household names,” Danielle says.
The Pomegranate enchants visitors with a warm interior that features Iranian poetry on the walls, stories from the Book of Kings told through paintings, and intricate glass chandeliers. The décor is almost as rich and colourful as the food.
When it comes to the menu, Danielle says the couple tries to represent dishes that may be lost, or forgotten and this, for guests, often evokes memories of the past. “Almost every night I have Iranians come in from a certain village and they will recognize a dish special to that region,” she says.
Danielle remembers receiving skeptical stares from suspicious Iranian grandmothers when she first started the restaurant. Now, she enjoys the satisfaction of their approval more and more. This is how Danielle and Alireza know they’re succeeding.