Saturday, December 19, 2009

Darya Restaurant

My cousin, the elder son (of two) of my eldest uncle, flew into town from Korea this past Monday. I didn't get to see him until last night, when my cousin, sister, sister's friend, and I all gathered in West L.A. for dinner.

This cousin is the only cousin out of my 22 first cousins (one of whom died as a child, so really 21) that is older than me (he's a year older), so I really love him. He takes the Korean pressure to get married and have babies right off me, at least on my mother's side of the family. I'm the oldest in my generation on my father's side of the family, so no reprieve from the nagging there. Sigh.

I haven't seen my cousin in fifteen (!) years, and I was a bit nervous about meeting him, a virtual stranger. But it wasn't awkward at all. We fell into a rapid-speed conversation right away and I realized that though we are older, we're still the same people. I am so glad he's here.

(Don't judge us by this photo, I don't have a lick of makeup on and we all just ate an enormous meal of Persian / Iranian goodness. Also, he's not that short- he's stooping to try to be at the same height as my sister and me.)

Since the cousin is so very new to America (he came in 1994, I think?), we decided to broaden his horizons. We decided, adventurously, to take him to eat Persian food, which he'd never had before. Ever. In his whole life. My sister is really the one that goes adventurous, I tend to stick with what's close, so she picked the restaurant.

Darya Restaurant
12130 Santa Monica Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90025

Telephone: 310.442.9000

Call for hours.

There was soft mood lighting, which helped the strange ornamental plaster pieces stuck to the ceiling, walls, and random columns. There was also, and this was my favorite part, a gently rotund man with two electric keyboards that serenaded us. He was awesome, curly mullet (!) and all. He sang everything from "Just The Way You Look Tonight" to some Beatles all the way to what I would assume were traditional Persian or Iranian songs. And he also played and sang "Happy Birthday" for some woman that shrieked when the waiters emerged from the kitchen with a cake, ablaze with a large candle.

Such a kitschy place, this one! Their ... fresco? ... on the wall was one of the highlights, for sure.

(please excuse the crap iPhone photo)

Hai and I work next door to each other (literally), so he drove me there. This is considered "saving gas" in L.A., that we only had two cars among four people. My sister and my cousin got to Darya before we did, and my sister, the most impatient hungry person I've ever met in my life, decided to go ahead and order everything before we arrived. It was actually fun to not know what was coming and just sit down and start eating.

We started with dolemeh (is the plural dolemehs?), which are ground beef, rice, tarragon, split peas, green onions, basil, parsley, and other herbs wrapped and cooked in grape leaves. They are vinegary and delicious, especially good when smeared with yogurt sauce and wrapped in thin, flaky lavash. I think lavash is a type of naan (or nan), but much thinner and less yeasty, almost crisp.

The main dishes came out all together, family style. I loved our waiter, who came over after the dolemehs disappeared and started clearing the middle of the table, pushing our plates closer to the edges to make room for the enormous square platters that emerged, piled high with deliciousness.

We had baghali polo, Basmati rice mixed with dill and lima beans, giving the rice a green tinge. The beans were soft and wrinkly, very yielding and almost creamy. Next to the baghali polo was a pile of regular Basmati rice. I like mixing them so that the rice-to-lima-bean ratio is altered a bit.

We got a platter full of meat. Literally, platter o' meat. The unanimous favorite was the chicken koobideh, ground chicken that's been seasoned and charbroiled on skewers. It's really good and the only way that ground chicken is delicious and not throat-parchingly dry. The koobideh at Darya was just a tiny bit dry, but saved by the yogurt sauce and the seasoning.

There was also shish kabobs, which are mandatory because they're steak and very recognizable for someone who's never eaten Persian food before in his life. He needed something he felt comfortable with, after all. It was fine. Not seasoned or anything, and cooked to a passably good medium-rare. It wasn't the best cut of meat, so it was a bit chewy- again, saved by the yogurt sauce.

The last of the meat was lamb chops- very small chops that were marinated and charbroiled. I don't like lamb but I always try it, because I feel like maybe I'll like it someday. Nope, still don't like it. But the marinade was good, at least. I felt that it was just slightly undercooked- pink lamb weirds me out, for some reason.

Their charbroiled tomatoes, onions, and green bell peppers were charred in black stripes but still raw in the middle, perfectly smoky and so simple but so wonderful alongside the assortment of meat-a-palooza.

We ate really shockingly quickly, which explains the lack of food photos. It was about 8:30 or so by the time we ate, and we were all starved. Everything, we concurred at the end of the main course, was yummy.

Then came dessert, where things went slightly awry. We all shared, which was good, because we didn't finish what we ordered.

There was pistachio Persian ice cream, which had more of a texture of a strange sorbet- it seemed icy rather than creamy. The only thing that redeemed the ice cream was the fact that it had large chunks of pistachio in it. It tasted like soapy coconut more than anything else. Weird.

Since bakhlava is traditional, we ordered one. It was teeny-tiny and overly sweet and overly gingery. I couldn't taste the pistachios or almonds or walnuts at all, just the overwhelming taste of honey and maybe corn syrup. Something was off. Their pastry chef, perhaps?

My sister got a Turkish coffee, and that was good, as any strong drink full of caffeine is. The cup and saucer were adorable, and I wish that I had had the wherewithal to snap a photo- even a crappy iPhone photo. Regrettably, I was too full of koobideh to do anything but sigh by that point.

It was fun, the restaurant was fun, the conversation was great (a Korean man and a Vietnamese man make for funny dinner companions), and it was more amazing than I could say to see my cousin again (though I want to chop off his hair, which is longer than mine).

We went to my house at the end of the night. In the photo, my cousin and my sister are on the porch swing (porch rocker, really) that's on the front porch- they ran up the brick path and plopped down. Aren't they cute? None of us look alike, really, but that's okay. We all talk and laugh and eat alike, and that's what's important.

The sister, the cousin, and I are meeting up for a cousinly dinner tonight. We don't know where we're going yet, but I'm sure there will be a post about it soon.