pork medallions

Majid’s looks as if it’s here to stay

For a while there, the restaurant space at the back corner of Chenoweth Square became something of a joke among local foodies. The spacious facility had enjoyed restaurant success over 20 years or so as the culinary home of the original Rick’s, Indigo and later Rick’s Ferrari Grille.

In recent years, though, this venue housed what seemed like an endless succession of lackluster, short-lived eateries.

vegetable skewer
Majid’s vegetable skewer
But that was before Majid Ghavami opened his namesake eatery almost two years ago. Based on a recent return visit with friends, I think it’s likely to break the “curse.” Central to the burgeoning St. Matthews entertainment zone, it’s drawing crowds throughout the week. Much of this return to glory can be attributed to the work of Ghavami, who’s been a master of the maitre d’s arts for many years, having come up through the fabled Casa Grisanti, Mamma Grisanti and Vincenzo’s before opening Saffron’s, then joining Volare as its general manager and now, putting a cap on it all at the stylish spot that bears his name.

As in the past, the restaurant incorporates both a spacious dining room and a separate bar, but considerable reconstruction has opened up the bar space into a large, casually sophisticated venue. The dining room is an elegant space, now done in gray, silver and black, although the large lighted fish tanks set into the walls remain from prior institutions.

Majid’s bill of fare has evolved a bit since opening, moving from a focus on the cuisines of the modern nations covered by the ancient Persian Empire (from Greece and the Eastern Mediterranean through Southwest Asia to India) to a more international menu that still offers delicious tastes from Ghavami’s Iranian heritage.

About 15 appetizers, soups and salads, mostly under $10, offer, for example, classic Iranian sabzi, $7 for two), a bowl of fresh, aromatic green herbs including watercress, basil and tarragon, mint, radishes and cubes of feta cheese, with warm pita quarters to load them in; and kaskhe bademjon ($7), an earthy, coarsely ground garlicky eggplant and yogurt dip with pitas; or stuffed quail ($11). It also moves around the world to shrimp and grits ($7), ahi tuna seared in porcini powder ($10), classic escargot ($9) and much more.

A dozen main dishes range in price from $17 (for two meatless options, a grilled vegetable kabob or vegetarian pastitsio) to $40 (for rack of spring lamb grilled kabob style). Most mains are in the teens or low $20s. Mixologist Stephen Dennison’s beverage program is comprehensive and fairly priced in the wine, beer and cocktail departments.

We started with sliced Blue Dog baguettes and a complimentary dish of gorgonzola spread, then moved on to the aforementioned sabzi and kashke bademjon. I didn’t hear a peep of complaint from anyone around the table about dishes as varied as the pork tenderloin diablo ($21) with horseradish-mustard cream sauce; the roast cod (a daily special) or the grilled salmon ($23). The braised lamb shank ($22) was a hearty delight, touched with aromatic South Asian flavors and bathed in a rich tomato sauce; skilled grilling and controlled caramelization transformed the roasted vegetable kabob ($17) into something that went way beyond mere grilled chunks of zucchini and summer squash, onion and ripe tomatoes.

A rich, intense chocolate paté ($8) put the icing on the cake, so to speak, and coffee ($2.50) was fresh-brewed and fine.

chocolate pate
Chocolate Pate
With a bottle of Upland wheat beer from Bloomington, Ind. ($4) and a glass of Massimo Malbec from Argentina ($7), our share of the dinner for two came to about $80, plus a $20 tip for careful, friendly but not intrusive service.

3930 Chenoweth Square