I am sitting at my kitchen table with an elegant array in front of me: golden chicken on blistered bread, ground beef in a narrow strip with a hole in the center (where it came off a skewer), and the longest long-grain rice I’ve ever seen. There are pickles and a little salad with both meals, and they’re tucked into Styrofoam containers.
It is all from Roksana’s Persian Food, near Watertown Square, and it is beautiful food that might be at home in a much more regal setting than my kitchen. I have always wondered why even in ordinary Persian restaurants, you get a kind of court cuisine, when most other cuisines from countries at some point under Ottoman rule offer a homier kind of country cooking. Iran’s food is full of long skewers, basmati rice that looks especially bright against flecks of grain soaked in saffron, and many intricate spreads and appetizers that might begin with roasted eggplant and end with a scattering of fresh pomegranate seeds painstakingly removed from the fruit.
At Roksana’s, Ala Tolouei and his wife, Roksana, who have lived here for six years, have been turning out their thoughtful cooking, all halal, for eight months. It’s entirely takeout, not even a corner to stand up and devour your roll-up. Ala Tolouei had a large-scale catering factory in Iran.
This is Slow Food, carefully prepared, subtly seasoned, and not particularly spicy, though it is made with many spices. You are never getting a reheated skewer. You will never find a bean in a dish that wasn’t once dried. All the bread, puffy and delicious, something like Indian nan, and also called nan, is made in a tandoor oven in the front window.
Begin by pointing to the packaged appetizers in the refrigerated case. There are several with eggplant. Mirza ghassemi ($9 a pound), made with tomatoes and chopped eggs, is a thick intense spread with a slight smokiness. Kashk-e bademjan, translated as stuffed eggplant, is actually a spread with the smoky flesh, kashk (like sour cream), and fried dried mint, fried garlic, and fried onion sprinkled on top. Zeytoon parvardeh, called stuffed olives, is coated, rather than stuffed with, ground walnuts and pomegranates. They’re my new peanuts.
You must get bread, made in giant rounds. Order it with a grilled kebab ($5-$12) and you’re in for a treat. Ala Tolouei lines the container with the bread, sets the skewer over it and slides the meat into the bread. He adds salad and pickles and folds the bread over like a well-made bed. You half expect hospital corners (the meats come in roll-ups, too). Torsh kebab is beef marinated in walnuts and pomegranate; koobideh is lightly spicy ground beef, lamb, or chicken. Also on the grill is a fish of the day ($7-$10). A large salmon fillet one night on that outstanding basmati was pretty wonderful.
Zeresk polo with chicken is chicken with rice ($9), studded with bright-red, tart barberries, which is what dried cranberries would taste like if done right. A lamb shank ($7) offers the entire, meaty bone in a tomato-flavored sauce.
What you should do with this food is take it home and remove it from those takeout containers as soon as you can. Transfer it to platters. Get out your best flatware and glassware. And serve the food the way it deserves to be served.Sheryl Julian can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @sheryljulian.