If you've ventured downtown lately, you've likely noticed the colorful facelift at the corner of Bijou and Tejon streets. The formerly bland faade next door to the garishly logo-ed Cingular wireless store has been painted bright yellow, announcing a new ethnic eatery, Persian Grill.
Inside, the dining room is decorated in shades of orange -- with formica floor and table tops in pumpkin and peach hues -- and features a mirror- mosaic wall and an ornate fountain. Behind the counter, on a wall as bright as orange gets, a poster of a dark-haired model with a come-hither look beckons: "Hungry for something different?" Her straight white teeth hover over a packed gyro sandwich.
Most diners probably venture into Persian Grill for the gyro, a bargain at $3.79. It's perfectly serviceable, but common to several downtown locations. What Persian Grill has that others don't are a few authentic Persian dishes, nicely seasoned and well prepared, light and healthful. If you stay away from the obligatory steak fries and onion rings offered with the sandwiches, this is a good place for a low-fat lunch.
Gormeh Sabzi ($7.99), a recent special, is a slow-cooked stew with slivers of lamb or beef that have fallen off the soup bone, pinto beans (in lieu of the traditional black-eyed peas), a fragrant lemon-enhanced broth and a blend of chopped green onion, fenugreek, parsley, spinach and coriander that turns the whole thing bright green and gives it a rich, herbal flavor. Served with Persian Grill's signature arrangement of basmati rice topped with a spoonful of saffron rice (looking like a fried egg with the yolk broken) and a simple shredded lettuce salad with pungent feta and yogurt dressing, this is a delicious and nutritious meal.
Also noteworthy are the kebabs -- both the lamb and beef and the grilled chicken. The traditional ground lamb and beef version is extra lean, seasoned with finely grated onion and garlic and formed around a skewer into a long sausage shape, then grilled until done through the middle. The chicken kebab is seasoned with Persian spices and tastes like it's marinated in lemon.
Both kebabs are available in pita sandwiches ($3.99 and $3.79) or on plates with the above-mentioned rice, salad, pita and a drink ($6.99). The Persian Grill special ($7.99) will get you a taste of both.
A display case is filled with a variety of baked goods. Baklava, Katafi (a shredded wheat pastry filled with honey, cinnamon and nuts), nut roll and cheesecake all are modestly priced at $1.99.
But the real reason to venture to Persian Grill is the Havij Bastani ($2.50), a dessert billed on the menu as "one of the best drinks in the world." That's not an exaggeration. A large cup of freshly pulverized carrot juice (the exact orange color of the bright back wall) is topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and sprinkled with cinnamon and cardamom. Sweet, refreshing and filling, it's like a root-beer float, except with carrot juice, the perfect tonic on a 90-degree summer day.
Persian Grill is still in its formative stage, offering a different special each week and fine-tuning its menu. Real forks and spoons as opposed to plastic would be preferable, and the Mast Moser and Mast Khiar, spiced yogurt dressings, should be offered with the plates instead of as separate side dishes ($1.99). Those minor quibbles aside, I've found a favorite new lunch joint -- lemon on the outside, carrot on the inside.
-- Kathryn Eastburn
36 E. Bijou St., 635-7749
Hours: Mon.-Thurs., 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Sun. 1-9 p.m.