When a restaurant has been around for more than 30 years, there’s a pretty good chance they’ve perfected their menu, along with their sense of hospitality. That’s certainly the case with Café Natasha, right on South Grand Street in St. Louis, Missouri.
Natasha Bahrami, otherwise know as “The Gin Girl,” has the “blessing and curse” of having the restaurant named after her. It happened when she was an infant, and her parents opened a downtown St. Louis restaurant to bring their Persian roots to life in food. She now operates it alongside her mother, Hamishe Bahrami, who has been the chief chef at the family restaurant for all of its 32 years, across several locations.
They’ve been at 3200 S. Grand for the past 14 years, and just recently established a Gin Room to display what Natasha calls “one of the largest selections of gin” with an eye toward helping people pair great Persian-influenced food with gin.
Natasha says, “We are taking a restaurant that has been here for generations and moving it and keeping up with all the trends that are going on, making sure we stay alive in the amazing growth in St. Louis in the restaurant business.” Part of that is an acknowledgement of the importance of fresh herbs, many of which are grown right on site. The pots of fresh cilantro, basil and more serve to decorate the cozy outdoor seating available at the restaurant, as well as to flavor the food.
While Natasha keeps an eye on new innovation, Hamishe is all about the flavor. She says, “We serve mainly Persian food, with some Mediterranean. We make all of our flavors 100% Persian with our own seasonings.”
She explains that the way they mix the seasonings together is what makes the difference. “We use cinnamon, cardamom, turmeric, all kinds of pepper,” she says, “but it’s the way we taste it, making it the way we were brought up—that’s what makes it different than anybody else.”
We started with the Kashke-Bademjune, a Persian-style mashed flame-roasted eggplant, with chickpeas, garlic, onion and mint—garnished with radishes and cucumbers, and oh so good! It was followed by a Persian appetizer made with tomatoes, red onion, cucumber, and a combination of herbs that made it stand out, particularly with the addition of Bulgarian feta cheese.
The Shish Kabobs were next: tender chunks of chicken, sirloin steak, and lamb, all marinated in special sauces perfect for their type of meat, then cooked over an open flame. They were served along with Saffron Basmati Rice with a pat of butter soaking down into the rice to bring out the flavor even more.
For dessert, we sampled two: the traditional Persian Ice Cream, fragrant with rose water and flavored with pistachio nuts and saffron, and the Faludeh, a traditional Persian sorbet made with rice noodles and turned into a sweet slush that is flavored with lemon and rose water.
Along with the food came amazing hospitality, all tucked away in a quiet corner of St. Louis. There’s plenty more on the menu, too—stews, pilafs, pita sandwich wraps, soup, and, of course, baklava. Ask for the Gin Girl!
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