Thursday, November 10, 2011

Paradise in Westwood

Torshi, or pickled vegetables
The Attari Sandwich Shop in Westwood has always been a unique and almost secret little sandwich joint. There weren't any signs. You enter off a side street, through a courtyard, and find a small room with a couple tables and a deli counter with display cases. The menu is posted on the wall. Unlike the fancy Persian restaurants nearby, this is just a sandwich joint - you can get a tongue sandwich or chicken salad, or even Persian hot dogs. A refrigerated case in the corner holds cans of Coke and Sprite and also bottled doogh, the Persian fizzy yogurt drink.

You order at the counter, pay, and they give you a number on a plastic card to insert in a holder on your table. In a few minutes, servers bring your meal - paper-wrapped sandwiches in plastic baskets, or a bowl of delicious ash (pronounced "Osh") - a kind of multi-bean soup drizzled with cream and flavored oil.

It is always crowded; always tough to get a seat a lunchtime. And it's impossible to find a place to park nearby.

In the last year, Attari has branched out, occupying a side space off the courtyard. Now a real restaurant with six or so tables cloaked in linens offers an expanded menu including Persian stews and kabobs, it's called Attari Grill.

We showed up on a Saturday afternoon, and instead of going through the courtyard to order at the counter like usual, out of curiosity we went into the Grill. There was a large family group assembled in the small space, and the tables had been pushed together to accommodate them. So we told the hostess we would order from the Grill menu, but that we'd sit out in the courtyard, to allow the family group to use the dining room.

Underdressed for this crowd, at least I wore black!
The courtyard has a central fountain and tables with cheerful yellow umbrellas. This is where Los Angeles' Iranian-American community hangs out. And they are an elegant bunch. At a nearby table, a woman wearing thigh-high black Christian Louboutin boots sat with an equally glamorous friend, spooning Ash-e-jo barley and bean soup from a red plastic bowl as they chatted.

Shining black Porches and Mercedes pulled up to the curb in front, disgorging black-clad women in sunglasses, or young men with spiked, dark hair and soccer jerseys who loped up to the order counter. Alternately, huge Escalades parked, while families unloaded elaborate folding strollers with cherubic dark-eyed toddlers. Older gentlemen wore cashmere cardigans tossed casually around their shoulders, and escorted elegant older ladies with lots of jewels on impeccably manicured hands to sit at the outdoor tables. People sit for extended meals and gossip sessions, and many customers seem to know one another.

It was a funny amalgam of two restaurants sharing the same courtyard. Our table received leatherette bound menus and a linen-lined bread basket. The other tables had red plastic baskets and plastic numbers. We placed our order with a waiter, while they had placed orders at the counter. Our Coke came in a glass. Theirs came in a can.

What did we have?

Torshi, a dish of pickled carrots, cauliflower and celery, screaming neon yellow with turmeric.

Kaske badjemon
Kaske badjemon, which is sauteed eggplant topped with herbs and crispy fried onions, and drizzled with sour whey.

A basket of flat lavash bread, served with foil packets of cold sweet butter served to wrap dollops of eggplant or chopped from onions and herbs while we waited for our main course.

Since I ordered from the Grill, my Ash-e-jo came in a china bowl
I ordered a bowl of Ash-e-jo, a thick soup made with barley and various beans, topped with crispy onions, mint oil and a drizzle of sour cream or yogurt. It's filling and complexly flavored, warming on a cold day.

[The Man I Love] ordered Chicken Barq kabob. It was served with a roasted tomato, chunks of sweet onion, and a generous amount of fresh lemon basil. You could choose rice as an accompaniment or sangak, which is a toasted whole-wheat sesame-studded flat bread. We chose the sangak, which was amazing.

The sangak is a whole-wheat sourdough flat bread topped with sesame seeds. It's blistered in the oven, then folded around the grilled chicken. Everything was delicious. Flavors popped! From the bright lemony taste of the herbs to the earthy whole-wheat bread, the puckery pickles and the savory beans.

When we left we talked with the Grill's proprietor. They've been open about a year. The menu has many more items to explore, including their version of Ghormeh Sabzi that I must try next. If you're looking for good Persian food, and a choice of casual or conventional dining, now there are two Attaris to choose from.


Rachel said...

That looks fantastic! It's now on my 'must try' list.

Gary's third pottery blog said...

good lord, there you are eating that awesome stuff and sitting in the sunshine under palm trees: THAT IS SO UNFAIR :)

ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

Those folks in the background of the Chicken Barq kabob look like they're sitting in spaceship chairs.

Which is the first thing I thought of when I saw "Attari."

P.S. Yes, that food looks delicious!

Anonymous said...

You've made me hungry... at 10:20pm!

Pumpkin Delight (Kimberly) said...

Oh boy that looks so good. I also think the courtyard looks so pretty. What a find!

Hamish Mack said...

Wow, that looks good!