Since the couple’s move from Brushland Eating House to Montreal restaurant Vin Papillon a few years ago, we’ve dreamed of discovering Sohail and Sara Mae Zandi’s “eating house” in the Catskills. It was after returning from a recent trip to the Big Apple that it was finally possible to stay in the tiny village of Bovina and make a host of lovely discoveries.

After five particularly gargantuan and over-stimulating days in New York, the country break was in order. For the couple, this break has lasted for almost 10 years. Sohail and Sara left their overactive Brooklyn bubble to slow down and redeploy with more freedom. They do not regret their change of life.

Before taking the plunge, the chef and communications graduate turned service enthusiast worked like mad for the Frankies Spuntino group. They liked to spend weekends in the Catskills “not doing much.” Then, one day, they fell in love with a 19th-century building in the tiny “dairy” village of Bovina.

“I was 29 and had a bit of money saved up,” Sohail said. We didn’t think too much about it and we bought! It was a gut feeling. A decade ago, the Catskills was a place where New Yorkers had their second home. Those who moved here full time were eccentrics! »

Of course, that all changed during the pandemic, and a host of urbanites migrated to the countryside north of the Big Apple, so-called “Upstate New York.” The number of small villages that now have their own specialty coffee shop, thrift store and natural wine shop has exploded!

In Brushland, open since 2014, a pandemic and two babies have also brought about changes. Rather than being open five days a week and serving a hundred customers a night, Sohail and Sara have reduced hours and turnover. The restaurant is now open from Thursday to Saturday only, in a single service formula for 40 customers at a time. Everyone eats the same thing, at the same time, on plates to share for each table, large or small. It’s much more user-friendly that way. And, at $75 (US) per person, the experience is still very accessible.

We arrive at Brushland on a Friday evening, just in time for happy hour, which begins at 6 p.m. The dining room is gradually filling with a colorful fauna, which we guess is half-urban, half-local. The welcome cocktail circulates. But no little fingers in the air here. A “dining house” is the antithesis of the stuffy restaurant. It’s a place where you let yourself be taken care of as if you were with friends, with the assurance of eating a little more than you want, but without being stuffed. Because here, there is only kindness and benevolence.

We can hardly speak of “decor” when it comes to describing the house. The place is made with extreme simplicity, relying on its natural beauty as a typical old village inn that has stood the test of time and fashion.

Fortunately for our stomachs exhausted by five days of culinary debauchery, the appetite almost always comes with eating. And all the more so when the dishes served come straight from the heart. It’s a full moon eve Friday night, which means chef Sohail Zandi is paying homage to his mother’s cooking and his Iranian roots, a now monthly tradition.

It started a few years ago with a Persian New Year (Nowruz) feast, celebrated in March. “In the beginning, my mother was from New Jersey and cooked with me. She had always wanted to open a restaurant, so I showed her what a bad idea it was,” laughs the man who experienced the horrors of a less human restaurant when he lived in town.

It was there, in Brooklyn, that the couple met several Montreal restaurant workers, including David McMillan. The former co-owner of restaurants Joe Beef and Vin Papillon, among others, also chose to settle in the countryside to plant his vineyard.

We may have limited knowledge of Iranian cuisine, but the tahdig rice that the chef places in the center of the dining room, with its superb golden crust, is of rare splendor. The tender beef stew that accompanies it, topped with beautiful garlic fava beans and sprinkled with fresh herbs, is very comforting on this cool spring evening.

The next day, for the “regular program”, Sohail puts on his French-trained American apron (among other things) and offers a revisited version of tripe à la mode de Caen – with maitake mushroom instead of tripe -, plenty of vegetables, local beef again and a Basque cheesecake.

Less present in the room than before since she gave birth to two little casseroles, Sara always goes to greet the guests, a girl on each hip. Sohail releases one to him as he addresses the entire room to welcome and explain the concept of the restaurant in a heartfelt way.

If, at the beginning of each of the two evenings that we have the pleasure of spending at Brushland, couples and small groups stay a little in their bubble, the pleasure ends up prevailing over the embarrassment and the meetings multiply. When the magic really happens, sometimes a bottle of tequila lands on the table at the end of the meal for a shared last drink.