It was pouring rain the evening we arrived at Ruby Café — four women, with no umbrella.
Before we could get out of our vehicles and make a run for it, a tall, friendly man by the name of Shawn Mostoufizadeh appeared with an umbrella in hand and escorted us inside.
We knew then this was going to be a special evening.
Mostoufizadeh and his wife, Azar, bought Ruby Café several months ago. The couple from Iran bought the restaurant because they love Persian food, and it shows. They made a few minor changes to the floor plan — and added an interesting array of new dishes.
From flavorful kebabs and stews to basmati rice with lima beans and sour cherries, Ruby Café serves up authentic Persian creations made fresh to order.
The Mostoufizadehs are very enthusiastic about the food they serve. My dining companions and I love Persian food but aren't familiar with the names of the various dishes. Azar was incredibly patient, answered all our questions and helped us decode a menu rife with unusual-sounding entrees, such as mast-e-khiar and kashk-e-bademjan. She even offered suggestions based on our likes and dislikes.
The two appetizers mentioned above were hard to pronounce, but easy on the palate.
The mast-e-khiar is a tart, thick dip made with yogurt, slivered cucumber and pops of mint topped with currants and walnuts, the kashk-e-bademjan, a baked eggplant dip with whey, sautéed onions and mint.
Both were standouts and struck the perfect balance of textures and flavors. The mast-e-khiar also served as a good condiment to many of the meats on the menu.
We also tried the hummus, pureed garbanzo beans, tahini, lemon juice and olive oil. It was smooth and creamy but suffered from a bit too much olive oil and not enough flavor.
For our meal, we were won over by a tender lamb shank. It was aromatic and perfectly roasted, with spinach and other greens cooked soft, and wonderfully seasoned with hints of black pepper and lime. The lamb was fall-off-the-bone tender and served with an impeccably prepared long-grain basmati rice streaked with saffron and scattered with sour cherries. You also can choose a delectable baghali polo, a Persian dill basmati rice studded with lima beans. Also on the plate was a nicely charred whole tomato, which helps season the lamb.
We also give kudos to the kabobs. The Mostoufizadehs' offer grilled lamb, beef and chicken, marinated and seasoned with saffron, lemon juice, onion and salt and pepper. The ground beef is seasoned with onion and was tender and flavorful, as was the chicken. The meats are minced and formed around knifelike spits and charbroiled to perfection.
The meats also are available in wraps, and you can add them to a house salad, E-shirazi, a mix of cucumber, tomato and mint.
If you're craving a true taste of Persia, and we were, Azar suggested the ghormeh sabzi. This dish is the Persian version of pot roast with vegetables, herbs, kidney beans, chunks of beef and dried lemon, slow cooked to a stew of bold, earthy flavors.
This is the kind of comfort dish you want to cozy up with on a cool evening; then turn in for a nap because this is a stick-to-your-ribs kind of meal.
Desserts were running low. We had a choice of store-brought chocolate or lemon cake and a good baklava.
Ruby Café offers wine, but they only had three bottles. None of them appealed to us, so we asked if we could bring our own. The couple were gracious enough to agree and didn't charge us a corking fee.
Bottom Line: Classic Persian cuisine in a casual, friendly eatery
Where: 3310 W. Kennedy Blvd., Tampa
Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Credit Cards: All major
Children's Menu: No
Alcohol: Wine and beer
Wheelchair Access: Yes
Price: $6.95 to $23.95
Contact: (813) 348-2395