Summer is skewer time: that’s the rule. It’s a season that gives us the opportunity to watch melted animal fats dripping over hot coals, spewing flames and musky scents. Most New York kebab spots champion the meat’s natural flavors, with chefs adding little more than salt, pepper, cumin, soy or wasabi. Think of our expensive yakitori parlors, Uzbek and Georgian shashliks or Middle Eastern kebab vendors. The product in question is usually meat on a stick, a simple and straightforward analogue of frozen fruit ice cream that you will seek out later to cool your insides.

When it comes to kebabs, chef Ali Saboor, formerly of Sofreh in Prospect Heights, has opened up something very different with Eyval. He says the Bushwick spot is partly inspired by Iran’s jigar stalls, places where vendors grill sheep’s liver over charcoal, but the fuller explanation is that Eyval looks like what would happen if a gourmet chef transformed traditional kebabs into complicated, creative and social dishes. – small plates suitable for the media.

Imagine: the ghalieh mahi, the fish dish with herbs from southwestern Iran, but prepared with scallops over a wood fire in a tamarind squid ink sauce. The black potion contains the sour punch of a Warhead and, thanks to red dots of chili mash, the wild heat of a Buffalo wing. Despite aggressive flavors, the molluscs still display the kind of powerfully sweet and brackish flavor one expects from a three-star Michelin scallop, a creature that grew up munching on beluga whale caviar in the Caspian Sea.

The chefs, by the way, remove the skewers before serving, which is good if you’re afraid of impaling yourself.

Saboor would not have been blamed for choosing the simple and straightforward path. Local Iranian restaurants almost universally extol a light and elegant approach to kebab making. This translates into a standard range of marinated beef, chicken, steak and lamb skewers. Everything is quite delicious, although a bit uniform. Eyval prefers to be delicious in a more finicky way – to create a place where smoke and ash embrace each dish like an imperceptible seasoning, rather than dominating it.

Trumpet mushroom skewers are served on lentils with coconut cream.
Ryan Sutton

It lets skewers of trumpet mushrooms, as bronzed as roast turkey, mingle with marinated beech mushrooms over lentils in fenugreek cream. The mushrooms display a toasty aroma and a meaty, wobbly texture – think prime rib, but more woody – while the beech woods and legumes provide notes of acidity and sweet earth.

Saboor isn’t the only one doing this sort of thing. All the intricate tweaks place Eyval in a small but growing class of local real-fire skewer spots that prefer to play with creative sauces, mousses, platings and garnishes. Other members of this renegade group include Maison Yaki in Prospect Heights (scallops with Maltese sauce!) and Kochi in Hell’s Kitchen (monkfish with tomato gochujang!).

Those who have already tasted Saboor’s dishes could have foreseen it. When he opened Sofreh in a Prospect Heights townhouse with Nasim Alikhani, he helped build a restaurant that expanded New York’s view of Iranian cuisine beyond traditional grilled meats and herbal stews, instead offering a more home-style and avant-garde approach to Persian cuisine. He and Alikhani followed up with the short-lived Sofreh Cafe, which offered the kinds of rose-scented pastries, breads and tea sets one might encounter in Los Angeles, a city with a much larger Iranian population. than New York.

Part of Eyval’s goal, which has extended to the now closed Sofreh Cafe space, is to highlight the regional diversity of Iranian cuisine. In a nod to southern Iran, the kitchen coats Persian cucumbers with so much date molasses that they look like they’ve been coated in charcoal.

Yet the other half of Eyval’s equation is that Saboor is a New York chef who can cook kebabs like few others. With the octopus, Saboor braises the tentacles, glazes them with garlic chilli, then crisps them gently over the fire. A layer of hazelnut tahini underneath helps soften the oceanic flavor of the cephalopod, while the glaze lends a subtle smoke. Or consider the chicken skewers, which the chef uses as an excuse for an avant-garde take on zereshk polo. The dish often involves a whole bird cooked in tomato-onion puree; Saboor instead sears chunks of thigh meat, scattering the bites in a half-moon over the dish’s signature sauce. The poultry is crispy with a pronounced smokiness, while the mash zings the palate with a sweet and sour punch.

A white plate displays a handful of lamb chops.

Eyval lamb chops are coated in a pomegranate glaze with a hint of walnuts.
Ryan Sutton

Technically, Eyval lamb chops aren’t kebabs like you might find in an Uzbek place like Cheburechnaya in Rego Park, but it would be a shame not to mention them. The kitchen coats the ribs with a tamarind-date glaze and a little walnut; the fruit tames the fatty, grassy meat, as the nuts seem to merge with the sweetness of the flesh.

And if all that is too exciting, Eyval’s koobideh beef and lamb kebab is pretty much a classic: juicy meat over fluffy rice. Only here the rice has more pink than the fragrance section at Macy’s.

Saboor says he’s possibly considering a late-night menu, perhaps with a rustic dish like grilled liver with beef hearts and onions. For now, however, I will say this: not since a 2013 meal at Season in San Francisco — a place that now holds two Michelin stars — I encountered a more nuanced deployment of wood-fired cooking. And while Saison can easily cost upwards of $500, one can pop into Eyval, watch a concert by an exiled Iranian pop star projected onto the wall, and spend around $100 on some of the best kebabs in town.

About The Author

Related Posts