Friday, June 20, 2008
Teheran in Westwood
Today I had to order a cake for a friend's birthday, and went to a little French bakery I know of on Westwood Blvd., south of Wilshire.
That part of Westwood is sometimes known at "Little Teheran" because of its concentration of Iranian businesses. There are restaurants, travel agencies, beauty shops, book and music stores, and professional offices, all owned by Iranian immigrants.
I ordered my cake, and strolled up and down the street. In the book store everything was written in Farsi, which is printed in Arabic script. The flowing calligraphy lent a graceful beauty to each volume. Of course, I had no idea what it said. There were several books or folios of prints on sale depicting paintings by modern Persian artists - romantic depictions of lush gardens, ancient domed cities, cornucopia of fruits, and idealized portraits of beautiful black-haired women - some were kind of like Persian Thomas Kinkaid paintings. Others, like these by Mahmoud Farchian presented complex and multi-colored fantasies that build on the ancient traditional art of Persian miniatures.*
The Jordan market was well-stocked with produce - fresh fruits like cherries, figs, apricots and berries looked luscious. I bought a couple of Persian cucumbers because they aren't carried at my local store. I also bought some fresh pita bread. There was a whole shelf holding fancily packed gift boxes of pistachio nougat. Cellophone-wrapped rock candy in many colors glittered in the fluorescent light. Plastic trays of pastries and cookies dusted with crushed green pistachios. There were bins of nuts and dried fruit you could buy in bulk. And yes, boxes of brightly colored Jordan almonds!
This market also has a large selection of fresh flowers and potted orchid plants. The orchids plants were arrayed on top of the high-front refrigerated case that displayed meat and fish, the lovely blooms arching over shoppers' heads as they peered in at the salmon, chicken, and lamb kidneys.
There were jars of imported jams and preserves, including quince jam, and rosepetal preserves. I bought a jar of sour cherry preserves, because I like to put a spoonful on my breakfast oatmeal. The shopkeeper tapped the label approvingly when he rang up my purchase. "This is a very good one - it is from Iran."
Another lady bought some plums and Rainier cherries, and chatted in Farsi with the woman behind the deli counter. I thanked them, and went back on the street. It was lunchtime.
Just south of the big Borders bookstore on the east side of Westwood Blvd., on a side street called Wilkins is a little shop that you enter through a tiny courtyard. This is the Attari Sandwich Shop.
You order at the counter. The display case holds platters of oliveh, a creamy chicken salad, and tongue, a couple of sandwich options, and kotlets, which are beef or chicken fried cutlets. Someday I'll try some of the other offerings on the menu, but today I ordered a kuku sabzi sandwich.
You can eat in the shop, where an elderly man watched a soccer game on the flat-screen TV on the wall, or you can eat outdoors in the courtyard, under cheerful yellow umbrellas and the waving fronds of palm trees and giant bird-of-paradise trees in the planter boxes. As I waited for the server to bring my sandwich, I watched the other diners - a table of older men, who hugged, back-slapped and kissed cheeks when another man joined them. A table of handsome dark young men in designer jeans with gold watches. A couple of older ladies in business attire walked into the shop and walked out with take-away. Everybody was speaking Farsi.
Kuku sabzi is like a dense frittata made with finely chopped green herbs. It's sliced and served on a crispy-crusted baguette with sour cucumber pickles. It is a burst of fresh green flavor in your mouth, and as you crunch through the sandwich, brilliant green flavored oil drips out to stain your fingers. Another delicious thing to order here is the Ash or soup - a rich lentil soup golden-yellow with spices served with a garnish of sour cream and crispy fried onions. It's a meal in itself - but today was too hot for soup. You can get a bottle of doogh, a carbonated drink made of yogurt with mint - I had it once, it's like drinking fizzy buttermilk. Not for all tastes. I had a diet Coke today.
After I left I walked across Westwood to where a sign beckoned saying "Persian Ice Cream." This is the Rose Garden Ice Cream Shop. The owner gave me a taste each of Saffron-Pistachio and White Rose ice cream.
Ice cream is a nice thing to eat during a heat wave like today. I opted for a pint of Saffron-Pistachio, and decided to pick up one of White Rose tomorrow for the birthday party. Someday I'll come back and get the faloodeh, which is a kind of sorbet made with little frozen vermicelli, flavored with sour cherry syrup.
For those who can't get to Westwood and want to taste Persian ice cream, visit Mashti Malone - in Hollywood or Westlake Village, at Whole Foods, or on line. I think they do mail order.
Mail order ice cream. What a concept.
*I chose not to post images of paintings, due to respect for copyrights. The painting above is a modern Indian botanical gouache I own. But I encourage you to go visit the links to see the amazing and beautiful paintings - both ancient and contemporary.