Shop with a Chef: Mahtab Saraf, Kashcool

Before opening Kashcool in North Vancouver eight years ago, chef Mahtab Saraf ran a popular Gastown coffee shop on Water Street whose regulars included Bruce Allen and Bryan Adams. But she couldn’t be happier now that she has her own Persian restaurant (albeit one that’s located on an unpromising-looking stretch of Pemberton Avenue). “My husband’s father had a restaurant in Iran 40 years ago with the same name, so this is really the second restaurant.” All her recipes are generations old, including her celebrated kebabs, which were served at the first incarnation of Kashcool. Although she makes the occasional trip back to Iran, Saraf finds most of her ingredients closer to home, in the “Little Persia” section of North Van. For tender cuts of chicken and lamb, she relies on Olympia Meats (120 W. Third St., North Vancouver, 604-988-8100). For spices like saffron or somagh (a lemony spice that’s difficult to find even in Iran), she shops at Persia Food Products (126 W. 15th St., North Vancouver, 604-985-2288). Twice a week, she walks a few blocks down Pemberton to Afra Bakery (1521 Pemberton Ave., 604-987-7454) where she picks up fresh sangak (Iranian flatbread), best served alongside a steaming bowl of fesenjan—a pomegranate and walnut stew that she simmers for four hours to bring out the nutty natural oils. She’ll also head to Yaas Bakery (1860 Lonsdale Ave., 604-990-9006) in search of lavosh flatbread, which she likes to pair with gheymeh, another hearty stew of eggplant and yellow split peas—comfort food for a wintery night.

Mini Review: Say Cheesecake

Styled as a 1950s Parisian cafe, Cheesecake Etc., the sweet haven near the Granville Bridge created by husband-and-wife jazz musicians Mike and Edith Sims, bursts at the seams on Saturday nights. Heavy on the “Cheesecake” and light on the “Etc.,” the menu admittedly lacks variety (plain or chocolate cake, with or without a helping of berries, $4-6) but more than makes up for it in mouth-watering quality: the cakes are dense enough to support the Eiffel Tower and flavourful enough to make you forget how much you love tiramisu. Doe-eyed couples tend to linger at the candlelit tables, so expect to wait for a seat. If you can’t, whole cheesecakes and fixings ($25-$30) are available for takeout. (So are copies of the owners’ self-produced CD, Cheesecake, which features a Louis Armstrong wannabe singing—you guessed it—a tune called “Cheesecake.”) Open nightly, 7p.m. to 1 a.m., cash only. 2141 Granville St., 604-734-7704.

Hot Buy: Chef’n Palm Peeler, $8

David Holcomb, the brains behind the Seattle-based housewares company Chef’n, has had heaps of praise for his innovative fruit-and-veggie peeler, including a nod from the 2007 Housewares Design Awards, the Design Distinction Award from International Design Magazine’s Annual Review, and most recently an International Design Excellence Awards gold medal. Why is a peeler getting so much attention? Because it is to peeling vegetables what Edward Scissorhands is to trimming hedges: automatic. The stainless steal blade is razor sharp and the rubber grip gracefully fits the contours of your palm. Available in avocado, tangerine, cherry, and sunflower. Cookworks ($8), 1548 W. Broadway, 604-731-1148; 377 Howe St., 604-662-4918.