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A Colombian Illusion and Two Persian Leads

If there’s anything I’ve learned over the course of these food quests, it’s that in the moment I climb into a taxi, I have no clue what the back story of the person in the front seat might be.

The idea that we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover isn’t new, I know. But imagine having this truth underlined and exclamation pointed every time you take a cab ride.

Had you been with me when I flagged down Eli Parviz at the eastern end of the Triborough Bridge, you would have hopped into his taxi, observed his upturned ear flaps and noticed that he was munching on potato chips and sipping gas station coffee.

You might not have guessed that he used to work as a cosmetics chemist, that he was once the finest maker of face creams in all of Tehran – and that his family was among the 1.5 million people who fled to the U.S. after the Islamic Revolution of 1979 in Iran.

You might have assumed – from the lines on his face and the fatigue in his brown eyes – that Eli has been driving a taxi for over 20 years, that he relishes his role as a psychotherapist on wheels, and that he’s smart enough to know when his passengers are lying (“Their tone of voice changes. They hesitate, and what they say doesn’t match how they look.”).

You wouldn’t have been surprised by the fact that the cabbie knows within ten seconds whether a fare is going to give him a headache.

But would it have surprised you that despite dealing with angry passengers on a daily basis (“Especially lady lawyers. They always get furious with me.”), Eli believes that people are essentially good? According to his calculations, 85% of people are good, 7.5% are bad, and 7.5% are mediocre.

When you got to talking about food, it might have thrown you for a loop when he told you that he thinks the best cuisines in the world are Austrian, Russian (as long as it’s homemade) and French – in that order.

That the cabbie had just spent two weeks in Salzburg, where “all of the restaurants are great,” probably swayed the ranking – although he vividly remembered eating the best meal of his life at the Franco-Austrian restaurant Bouley in downtown Manhattan 15 years ago (where he “couldn’t believe” the lamb chop and “the sorbet made me want to eat my finger.”)

By the time you were on your way to a Colombian restaurant in Jackson Heights (Years ago, Eli drove a taxi for a Colombian who’d taken him to dinner there) and discovered that the cabbie had turned off the meter, you would’ve abandoned all assumptions. Even when it became obvious that he couldn’t remember where he’d eaten that delicious plate of beans and rice.

In the end, you would’ve been grateful to Eli for gifting you with a set of bi-coastal Persian restaurant recommendations: Ravagh Persian Grill (30th St., between 5th & Madison) in New York and Maykadeh Persian Cuisine (on Green and Grant) in San Francisco – and promised yourself that you’d get to both places…

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