Dining: Homestyle Persian fare flourishes at Yasaman
Yasaman Restaurant, aka Yas Café opened earlier this year in Rockville's Ritchie Center. The restaurant and the adjacent ethnic grocery are the latest offerings from the family whose delightful Yasaman Bakery has been in business for 25 years in the same center.
The rose colored dining room adorned with mirrors and petit point tapestries accommodates about 40 patrons. On a quiet evening, you almost feel like a guest in someone's home. Our host sets a dish before us with sprigs of fresh tarragon, mint, cilantro and watercress, chunks of feta cheese and pieces of lavash, the thinnest of breads, as a palate teaser.
For starters on this chilly night, a hearty barley noodle soup like ash-e-joo seems appropriate. But soup is hardly the right name for this pottage. The bowl brims with barley, chickpeas, kidney beans and lentils and only a trace of broth. How healthy can you get? On top, a thin layer of kashk (whey) and herbs add a tart note.
The first taste of kashk-o-bademjan, a silky eggplant side dish topped with whey and herbs, reveals a burnt garlic taste. But when all the garnishes including fried onions and mint are mixed together, the effect is more balanced. The purée is served with Ritz-type crackers, but we use the lavash instead.
When we ask owner "Mike" Azizi about the daily special, he offers a taste of the two dishes his wife Homa has prepared. They are ghormeh sabzi, a mildly seasoned mixed green vegetable and kidney bean stew served over perfectly steamed basmati rice, and khoresht-e-fesenjan,.a refined stew incorporating a sweet walnut and pomegranate sauce. A personal favorite, the khoresh is likewise served over rice whose grains retain their individuality.
Daily specials include lubia polo (rice with beans) on Monday; ghormeh sabzi (rice with mixed greens and kidney beans) on Tuesday; baghali polo (rice with lima beans) on Wednesday; khoresht-e-fesenjan (chicken with pomegranate sauce) on Thursday; and sabzi polo (rice and vegetables with fish) on Friday. Weekends bring ghaimeh (rice with meat and yellow split pea sauce) and baghali polo with veal on Saturday. Finally, khoresht-e-bademjan (rice with eggplant sauce), zereshk polo (lamb shank with rice) and shirin polo (chicken with sweet rice) on Sunday. Most specials are $9.95.
Kabobs are king here with 16 different offerings and combinations. Lamb shish kabob is sublimely tender and garnished with grilled tomato, onion and pepper. Jujeh (boneless chicken) kabob is golden, juicy and flavorful. Chicken shish kabob is appreciated as well. Cornish hen kabob, cut into pieces, is succulent and superb. The saffron-flecked, steamed basmati rice that accompanies the dishes earns its own star. Bread can replace the rice, but who would want to do that?
From a refrigerator case at the back of the dining room, Azizi fetches a bottle of doogh alternately spelled dough, though the former spelling is more like its pronunciation. This refreshing yogurt drink is often my chosen beverage with Persian food. Faced with a choice of plain doogh or mint flavored, I opt for the new experience. It takes only one sip of the Sadaf all natural mint doogh to make me a convert.
Another diner orders Gold Peak diet tea. It is bottled for Coca-Cola, he notes, and is just as sweet as that beverage.
The delights of dessert will have to wait for another time as we cannot manage another bite. But in the interest of full disclosure, I note that Yasaman offers homemade bakhlava with walnuts and pistachio nuts. Frozen treats include paludeh shirizi, a rose water and lemon sorbet with rice vermicelli, as well as gelato, ice cream and paludeh with ice cream.
Yasaman adds another interesting flavor to the Ritchie Center's diversity. Where else can you find Persian, Mexican, Peruvian, Indian, Japanese, Vietnamese and Chinese fare and a pancake house in such close proximity?
765 F&G Rockville Pike, Rockville
Hours: Mon.-Sat. 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m., Sun. 11:30 a.m.-7 p.m.
Style of cuisine: Persian
Dinner entrees: $8.45-$14.45
Credit cards: All major cards