by Cheryl Baehr
Gut Check is counting down the 100 dishes in St. Louis that you must eat right now.
When it comes to food, I don't do well with change. Sure, I like to try new things, and experiment with exotic ingredients. However, where my favorite, go-to dishes are concerned, I'm less flexible. When Café Natasha's (3200 South Grand Boulevard; 314-771-3411) changed its homemade yogurt dip last year, I nearly had a panic attack. I've been going to the Persian restaurant for nearly two decades and get the same thing every time I'm there: yogurt dip and shirazi salad for appetizers and the beef shish kabob with saffron basmati rice and two charred tomatoes for the main course. This was my order when I dined there last December, so I was shocked when the yogurt dip arrived covered in a garnet-colored sauce. "What's this?" I politely asked, trying to hide my horror. "It's the yogurt dip," the server replied. "We changed it a little. It now has pomegranate molasses and ground thyme. Enjoy!"
I thought about sending it back and asking them for a plain one, but I resisted for fear of offending the owners. Hearing the voices of a million parents ringing in my head -- "How do you know you don't like it if you've never tried it?" -- I dug in with my pita and had a revelation. It turns out the pomegranate molasses is the perfect condiment for the yogurt dip. The yogurt is thick and creamy (more like cream cheese than Dannon), and although it's tangy, it needs something sharp to counteract the richness. The pomegranate molasses provides this contrast with a super tart punch, but its sweetness gives it a depth of flavor not present in other acidic accouterments like lemon juice or vinegar. The ground time is subtle, but it brings the tanginess back to earth. I was seeing my favorite food in a new light and I loved every minute of it.
Turns out it's good to be pushed out of one's comfort zone.