Sunday, March 05, 2006

Tehran, Lonely Planet Style

Peace and Hello All,

We got back a few days ago from five days in the big city--Tehran. Millions of people, 10 football (soccer) teams, and the very boundary of religiously acceptable clothing.

We had two purposes: 1. For me to attend a symposium on third party gamete and embryo donation according to medicine, ethics, religion, law, etc.; and 2. To celebrate Sara's birthday with a nice little trip.

Of course, Sara caught some virus so was laid up and ill for most of the time. So not too many pictures of fun being had, sights being seen, and so forth. But what we can provide is some insight for fellow travelers to Tehran, particularly those using the Lonely Planet guidebook.

I started using LP about ten years ago and found it better than the other guidebooks I used in my post-military/pre-college Europe trip. Since then I've used LP for trips to Egypt, Syria and Jordan, India, Taiwan, Malaysia, France, and Europe. Now I'm putting them to use here in Iran.

First things first--lodging. We decided to stay at LP Iran's editor's pick for Tehran, the (in)famous Hotel Naderi. Though some have complained recently that the staff there was none too friendly, we found quite the opposite. All were very helpful, kind, and welcoming.

(Hotel Naderi's funky lobby)

However, other critiques of the Naderi's new room rates ($30/night for a double) were correct. Perhaps Naderi was a good value at $20 as listed in LP, but now the value is only so-so (especially without including breakfast). While some of the LP's editor's romantacism about Hotel Naderi's 40's decor was correct, it didn't quite live up to its billing, particularly with regard to the room itself. The room was servicable, but the carpet was filthy. Not a bad view outside of the window from our "garden room" though. The TV didn't work, nor did it get fixed.

(Next time we're thinking of Firouzeh Hotel--which is NOT listed in the LP but which is mentioned on their discussion board. It's about half the price and the owners were very helpful to us over email, but the big downfall is no in-room bathroom. Firouzeh is definitely worth checking out if that's not an issue for you.

The attached Naderi Cafe wasn't too bad. Hailed as the place where certain Iranian intellectuals sipped coffee and smoked cigarettes, we found it to have an intellectual or two, though it was hard to tell through all the smoke. It seems today the patrons are largely bored Tehrani youth in the latest fashions, flirting, smoking, and then smoking some more. Sara's French coffee was weak, but my Turkish coffee wasn't bad at all. Certainly worth a visit, but more for a sociological understanding of Tehran's youth rather than for any semblance of a cafe in Paris. The old "granddad" waiters were nice enough and have probably been there since the Shah's time...

Another cafe, "French Pastry" or something on Enqelab avenue, by Tehran University wasn't bad. Like Naderi Cafe it had a great scent of coffee, which I sorely miss in coffeeless Qom (except for a daily dose of Nescafe...). Decent pasteries and ice creams--we had "Chocolate Gilass" which was chocolate milk with scoops of chocolate ice cream. Not bad, but Iranians do their traditional ice cream flavors better than the chocolates and vanillas.

("French Pastry" down the street from Tehran University)

Though we had planned to eat our way through Tehran, seeing as how eating out in Qom means eating Persian food (or the occassional falafel), that didn't materialize either. Craving Pakistani/Indian food we headed over to the restaurant at the Atlas Hotel, noted in LP for it's "Desi" food. The atmosphere was nice, the service very good, but the rather limited Indo-Pak menu left a lot to be desired. The stuffed paratha was excellent and the sauces for the Mughali chicken and butter chicken we ordered were good. However, the chicken itself was too "Iranian" in the sense that it didn't have all of the smell spiced out of it as with proper Desi food. Not bad, but didn't quite hit the spot for us.

(No, that's not real beer--Iran has a huge market in non-alcoholic beer. This Eres wasn't bad, but I did find the major brand Delster now does "Delster Black" which is pretty darn close to a nice Guinness Stout.)

On Sara's birthday we ventured out down the 20km stretch of Vali Asr avenue into Northern Tehran to try the chic and hightly rated Monsoon. The notion of yellow curries and other Asian treats kept us going despite having to trudge long distances up and down steep hills, on uneven pavement (where Sara twisted/popped her ankle, but somehow mysteriously recovered very quickly--must've been the curry calling). However, once we finally found the dang place they said they couldn't seat us as they were booked up!! The kind owner followed us out the door and apologized in nearly flawless American English, trying to interest us in their new California cuisine restaurant. But Sara was right, we don't care about California cuisine in America, why would we want it in Iran (mind you, she didn't say that to the lady!)? Sadly, Lonely Planet didn't mention that you'd need reservations at this place. Knowing that would have saved us a lot of grief.

By now it was late, dark and we were hungry and in despair. We made one last brave effort and trundled off to Seryna, another LP pick for asian food and sushi. We finally made it and weren't disappointed. The decor was great, wonderful service, and with prices to match. That means we paid in Iran what we'd pay for a similar meal in America, which means it was about 10x more expensive than a meal out is normally in Iran. Aside from Sara's spicy tuna which used a local tuna instead of what she's normally used to, the food was outstanding.

Other food highlights included two meals at Tomato, just a few blocks down from our hotel and also listed in LP. Despite the highly common and annoying Iranian restaurant trend of having a bunch of stuff on the menu that they don't actually ever have to serve in real life, the food was great. Onion rings very nicely done and excellent pizza, especially the margarita pizza. Of course, like all pizza in Iran, there's no tomato sauce, which means you must succumb and put ketchup on your pizza like the locals. We also tried a steak sandwhich which was quite good.

Aside from that, the fast food kababi a few blocks east of Hotel Naderi did excellent sandwiches and chips/fries (the open restaurant with juice bar at the opening of one of the passages) and the traditional restaurant on Si Tir street (walk away from Hotel Naderi towards Si Tir and hang a left, restaurant is on the right side of the street) did a chelo morg chicken just the way Sara likes it.

What? You thought you'd get something more than restaurant reviews?!?!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm hungry.

9:22 AM  

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