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The Gossiping Gourmet:

‘Treasure’ found on Balboa Island

May 06, 2010|By Elle Harrow and Terry Markowitz

Nestled in a tiny storefront on Balboa Island is a charming, romantic little bistro called Pas.tu, which means “treasure box” in Persian.

A treasure box it is, with its candle-lit atmosphere, the sound of trickling water from the fountain on the terrace and the wrought-iron grillwork of the entryway secluding this little gem from the hustle and bustle of the street.

All this and the tastefully appointed décor with crisp white linens combine to make it a delightful place to dine.

The menu features a mixture of classic dishes from Persian, French, Italian and California cuisines. For a starter, a popular choice is the prosciutto-wrapped shrimp with tomato, mozzarella and basil.

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The combination appetizer plate gives you a chance to sample three Middle Eastern standards: hummus, grape leaves and tzatziki. A basket of warm pita and crunchy French baguette gave us a choice of “scoops” for the two dips. The hummus was presented in the shape of a heart and it was easy to love.

It was delicately flavored and smooth-textured with a nice undertone of sesame. It definitely had its own unique character, as did the grape leaves.

The two little dolmas had been cooked for a very long time in a flavorful broth until the leaves were very tender and the well-seasoned rice stuffing had become almost like a puree. Drizzled with high-quality olive oil and sweet balsamic vinegar, they were unique and particularly delicious, and we wished there were more of them. Tzatziki (yogurt and cucumber sauce) is always refreshing, but we prefer it as a condiment rather than a dip. So, we saved it for an accompaniment to our chicken kebabs, because they are often quite dry.

We have to report that the tzatziki remained untouched, because the chicken was as moist and tender as chicken breast could possibly be. Served off the skewer, these four plump pieces of grilled juicy chicken were as good as any we have ever tasted. The chicken had been marinated in seasoned yogurt before grilling, which tenderized and flavored it. There were also a few pieces of grilled onion and green pepper on the plate along with a buttery rice pilaf and a cooked plum tomato. The rice was fluffy, subtly seasoned and quite nice.

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