While Iran might not be on everyone’s hit parade in today’s world, Iranian food is very popular in Los Angeles, and there are a large number of excellent Persian restaurants throughout the Los Angeles area.
Which one is the “best” is a topic of constant discussion among Persian people, and many have their favorite which they swear by. My favorite, mainly because it’s close to Santa Monica, is the Darya Persian Restaurant on Santa Monica Boulevard.
There is no way that my editor is going to give me enough space to even begin to describe one of the four regional Persian cuisines. This is one of the most complex cuisines in the world, and is an amalgamation of dishes from Central Europe, Turkey, Mesopotamia, the Middle East, and other cultures, some of which have disappeared except for their influence on Persian cuisine.
First of all expect rice. There are several ways that rice is prepared, but the two distinctive features of Persian rice is that some of the rice dishes are mixed with fruits, and one version has a crispy crust that comes off the bottom of the pot and is quite different and delicious. Saffron is a common seasoning in Persian food, and rice is often flavored with it, giving it a beautiful color and aroma. And rice is often mixed with pomegranate seeds, cherries or raisons.
There are lots of different breads, both flatbreads from the Middle East and leavened bread, some of which are sweet, like Armenian bread, and some have seeds on them to add flavor.
The typical salad to start with is maust’ khiar: a combination of yogurt and chopped cucumber, flavored with mint, salt and pepper.
To my taste the best dishes at Darya are the kebobs and the stews, particularly those made from marinated chicken and lamb. I’m partial to the chicken barg, (rice and roasted chicken); the ghormeh sabzi, a vegetable stew a bit like Indian “sag,” which can also be ordered with chunks of lamb; and the lamb kebabs (all the kebobs are good, I just prefer the lamb).
By and large I don’t eat beef in Persian restaurants, and I don’t recommend it at Darya.
The best Persian foods I’ve eaten are those served at the home of some Persian friends we’ve known for many years. They bring together a dozen or so friends and family members of all ages, and there are perhaps a dozen different dishes on the table, all served family style. None of the dishes are familiar to me from anywhere else, and I always am asking about the recipes, which seem complex. But the foods are so flavorful and the tastes so complex that they linger in my memory for days.
Desserts for the healthy are fruits, which abound in Iran. For the rest of us the honey soaked dishes similar to baklava cannot be resisted.
Persian food is complex and difficult to make. But the resulting products are familiar, like a chicken kabob, but frequently with a slightly different flavor or mix of vegetables. The use of mild spices, and the emphasis on fruits and vegetables make this a very pleasant experience, and the skill level at Darya provides a good place to try out this cuisine. Don’t just order the familiar. Talk to the staff, get some descriptions, and try something new and different.
Merv Hecht, the food and wine critic for the Santa Monica Daily Press, is a wine buyer and consultant to a number of national and international food and wine companies. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you go
Darya Persian Restaurant
12130 Santa Monica Blvd.
Los Angeles, Calif. 90025