You've probably got a restaurant you've been meaning to try for years - always seen but never entered. One of mine was Ferdussi Taste of Persia in Costa Mesa. Gurlfren and I finally tried it this week, and really enjoyed it! The menu posted by the door promised a wide array of vegetarian fare, so GF was doubly eager to venture in.
Both of us are first timers to Persian cuisine, so I went in with an open mind. There were only three other tables occupied (8pm on a Tuesday night), so the waiter was willing to offer advice to us newbies. After telling him that I knew nothing about Persian food, he suggested kebabs, which sounded boring to me. I said I'd like to try something more adventurous, and he steered me to a stewed dish called Fessenjon, based on a sauce of ground walnuts and pomegranates. I chose the lamb version over the chicken, and was rewarded with a sweet, tart and savory dish of lamb shanks braised until tender and falling off the bone. Fessenjon reminded me of a Oaxacan mole negro, minus the chili heat, but still complex and fully flavored. Definitely a great recommendation on the waiter's part.
So my brain scanned for "what's that flavor...." and whirred for awhile before it came up empty. I get all lit up and turned on when I enjoy new cuisines because my brain plays the "guess what this is" game and desperately wants answers. I thought about asking permission to go into the kitchen, but I held back. Maybe next time I'm there and the place is slow....
GF ordered the Vegeterian sampler, which was a massive platter with two kinds of basmati rice and an variety of side dishes. The zereshk polo is basmati flavored with barberries (a tart dried berry of some kind), and the albaloo polo is a pink-hued rice with wild sour cherries. Both were wonderful complements to the following:
Yogurt w/ cucumber & mint: reminds me of tzaziki but flavored w/ mint, plus small diced cukes.
A cucumber and tomato salad, which was light, refreshing, and a palate-cleansing foil to the other dishes.
Eggplant dip (Kashk budemjon)
Gheimeh (yellow split peas, tomato sauce and sun dried lime)
Ghormeh Sabzi (spinzch, fresh herbs, kidney beans and sun dried lime)
I have a hard time describing specifics on the last three items. They were stews of a sort meant to be eaten over the rices, and I meekly list them as the menu describes them without my additional commentary. I'm afraid I'd do it injustice as I lack a Persian frame of reference.
Since the Ferdussi dinner, I've visited the Jordan Market in Laguna Hills and saw barberries and the other ingredients used in our dinner. So I've got a source for the ingredients. Can anyone recommend a good Persian cookbook that's more than a list of recipes, but rather explains the context / history / background of the cuisine?