From the outside, you'd never think Darya was anything special. It sits on a slightly seedy-looking stretch of Santa Monica Boulevard in West LA, just west of Bundy. Its storefront, along with those of most of its neighbors, is a bit dingy looking, and the drab yellowish light near the entrance doesn't help. Inside, however, you'll find high ornamental ceilings, crystal chandeliers, live Persian music, and some of the friendliest service in the city. In Los Angeles, you never can judge a book by its cover.
Darya's menu offers a selection of hot and cold appetizers, soups, salads, stews, grilled meats, and vegetarian dishes. Entrees range from $12 to $23. To whet our appetites, we were served fresh complementary flatbread with butter and slivers of raw white onion. The bread is quite enjoyable plain or simply with butter, but if you like onions, the cool bite and tang they provide in contrast to the warm bread and rich, creamy butter makes the dish even better.
Imported Pickles (khiar-shor)
We also ordered the imported pickles, which didn't taste different enough from American pickles to get me excited about eating them. I wished I had chosen a different appetizer, like the kashkek bademjan, a dish of sauteed eggplant with yogurt, garlic, mint, onion, and whey.
The entrees were much more satisfying. All of the grilled meat dishes, which make up the majority of the entrees, come with saffron-topped basmati rice, or for $1 extra, half rice and half Persian salad (romaine lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes, parsley, onion, olive oil, and lime juice). Pictured above, the lamb shish kabob is described as "our finest filet of lamb marinated & skewered & charbroiled with onions, tomatoes, & green peppers."
The menu describes the naderi kabob entree (lead photo) as "the most delicious and juicy chunks of center cut of filet mignon marinated in Darya special sauce served with charbroiled tomato." The price seemed a little high to me since I had to rely on the rice to get full, but when you consider that a single uncooked kabob skewer at Whole Foods costs $9, $21 for a whole plate of food that I don't have to cook myself really isn't bad, and the meat in both entrees was very flavorful and properly cooked. If you're on a budget, visit Darya at lunchtime to save a few bucks.
For dessert, there are tried-and-true favorites like baklava and cheesecake, and more exotic (to some of us) items like Persian ice cream (flavored with rosewater, saffron, and pistachios), faloodeh, and makhloot. One of my favorite things about Persian restaurants is their ricotta cheesecake. Unlike New York-style cheesecake, which uses much more cream cheese and is therefore a lot heavier, a cheesecake made with ricotta is almost light and spongy.
For something new (to me), I tried the bamieh, made of flour, sugar, honey, and rosewater. This dessert both looked and tasted like a cross between donut holes and gulab jamun (a popular Indian dessert).
The restaurant was a little loud, even on a weeknight, because of both the live music and the number of patrons, but it wasn't too loud to carry on a conversation. The place was pretty full, but we were able to get a table right away with no reservation and no snooty attitude from the host. The service was prompt, courteous, and helpful, and our water glasses were never empty. Though the dining room has quite a few tables, they are all well-spaced to give diners privacy.
Perhaps the only drawback to eating at this restaurant is the parking. There are plenty of meters on the street, but they can be hard to come by at busy times of day.
Overall, I enjoyed the experience. Everything met or exceeded my expectations.
Darya Fine Persian Cuisine
12130 Santa Monica Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90025
FYI: Darya has a sister restaurant in Tustin, but is not affiliated with any other restaurants that share its name.