Cafe Natasha

Sometimes, when a place is successful, the owners kick back on their laurels, content to coast along on past victories. Some, though, like the folks at Cafe Natasha, forge ahead. Long a standard-bearer of Persian food in St. Louis, Cafe Natasha remains an anchor of the vibrant and eclectic food scene on South Grand Boulevard while continuing to innovate with creative food and drink.

Our latest visit to Cafe Natasha yielded all sorts of delectable Persian favorites. To start, some Cabbage Rolls ($8) and a bowl of Cucumber Soup ($6). The rolls feature tender steamed cabbage leaves stuffed with basmati rice and a savory tomato sauce, just the thing to fire up the palate. The cold soup was deliciously refreshing, a cool combo of yogurt, cucumbers, dill mint walnuts and raisins. Tart, sour and sweet all at once, with a bit of crunch to break up the otherwise smooth texture--it's the epitome of subtle flavor and textural interaction. To contrast the creamy chilled soup, we indulged in the Preserved Garlic Cloves Seer Torshi ($5), a serving of gloriously pungent whole garlic cloves preserved in aged vinegar. These three dishes really serve to showcase the wide variety of flavors in Persian cuisine.

Kabobs are among the many specialties at Cafe Natasha. Deceptively simple, this traditional dish is so much more than just meat on a stick. We chose the Chicken Shish Kabob ($11), thick pieces of chicken marinated in fragrant saffron and lemon juice.

Lamb is a staple of Persian cuisine, and the Lamb Biryani Pilaf ($13) showcases it deliciously, augmenting the tender bits of pulled meat with seasoned rice, chickpeas and sweet and savory caramelized onion.

To wrap things up, a shared serving of Faloodeh. This sweet treat is based around a lemon ice of sorts. The velvety, sorbet-like ice is then contrasted with crunchy rice noodles and delicately perfumed with rose water. Not only a delicious dessert, it's a superb palate cleanser.

Food isn't the only thing happening at Cafe Natasha's. Spirits fans also will be impressed by the restaurant's new Gin Room. The bar program at Natasha's has given gin the same attention that whiskey has received around town, with an impressive selection of libations that revolve around this often misunderstood spirit. The gin list alone has some 50 varieties, divvied up by flavors, as well as categories like barrel-aged and naval strength. Try a specialty cocktail like the Dirty Persian ($10), a dirty Martini variant featuring Plymouth Gin and a specially spiced pickled pepper brine, combine a gin with one of Natasha's house-made tonics or simply sip something on its own with a cube or two.

Making a go of it in the restaurant industry is no easy feat, but the the folks at Cafe Natasha make it look easy. They've been in business for more than 30 years in a variety of locations. Here's to at least 30 more!

-- 3200 South Grand Blvd., 771-3411, cafenatasha.com.