Joon restaurant review: The glories and grace of the Iranian kitchen

I’ll get to the pistachio soup and duck fesenjoon — and the expertise behind the cooking — in a minute.

First, I wish to inform you why I fell for Joon in Vienna, Va., earlier than I even stepped out of the automotive. At a time when service is taking a severe beating, this new Iranian restaurant places hospitality on a pedestal. Not solely does Joon (Farsi for “life” and a time period of endearment) supply valet parking, the amenity is free of charge.

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Smiling at my luck, I enter the lobby, the place I obtain a verbal embrace on the host stand and spot that one of many causes I’m right here is holding courtroom on the bar: chef-owner Najmieh Batmanglij, 75, the acclaimed cookbook creator. One other lady, who introduces herself as a “hospitality fairy,” leads me to a desk in a eating room whose a number of blue accents are a chilled distinction to any rush-hour visitors. Water is instantly poured. Drink orders are taken.

The curtain for “life” goes up.

Somebody reveals up with heat bread and a plate of spreads: crumbled feta and goat cheese, a tapenade constructed from two sorts of olives, and cash of butter, inexperienced with herbs. We rip items of the lavash, baked in-house, and make brief work of the condiments. Nearly wherever else, you’d be charged for such a gesture. Joon sends bread out to everybody for nothing.

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“It’s a fun way to start a meal,” chef-owner Chris Morgan, 35, later tells me in a phone dialog. His title could be acquainted to chowhounds. Together with Gerald Addison, he beforehand tended to the open fireplace at Maydan in Washington and has since grow to be the chief culinary director for the Kitchen Collective, whose six operations embrace Joon, Pizza Serata and the kebab home Yasmine.

Free parking and bread make good first impressions, however they’re removed from the one early enticements. Batmanglij (pronounced BAHT-mahn-gleej) sees Joon as a solution to showcase extra than simply the standard suspects from Iran, the place she grew up in Tehran and, whereas fascinated with meals, wasn’t allowed by her mom to prepare dinner. (College was the precedence. Solely after she got here house with bachelor’s and grasp’s levels in schooling from the US in 1973 may she enter the kitchen, the place her mom started sharing household recipes.)

Joon makes a beautiful mash of roasted eggplant, herbs and dates, garnished with fried onions and completed with circles of olive oil and tangy fermented yogurt. For one thing much less anticipated, settle in with some scorching, crescent-shaped turnovers filled with floor lamb and pistachios. Dusted with powdered sugar and crushed dried rose petals, the sweet-savory appetizer, sanbuseh, could be traced to a Seventeenth-century Iranian courtroom cookbook.

Sardines signify one other novel starting, a hat tip to the Persian Gulf, the place Batmanglij acquired the recipe for her fried sardines from a fisherman. Imported contemporary from Spain, the sardines are marinated in vinegar, coriander and cumin, then dredged in spiced flour and fried to a crisp, with bitter orange and onions. Batmanglij says an outdated nickname for Persians was “pistachio-eaters,” so fond had been they of the nuts. Her first restaurant in the US options pistachios, floor and seasoned with cumin and ginger, in a scorching soup primarily based on rooster broth that will get tweaked with two Persian wonders: bitter orange juice and tart crimson barberries. Joon can also be the unusual supply of spinach borani, a thick yogurt dip elevated with cardamom and cumin.

Morgan and Batmanglij had been introduced collectively by investor Reza Farahani, however they first discovered about one another years earlier, when Morgan’s mom took one in every of Batmanglij’s cooking lessons and had the trainer signal one in every of her cookbooks to her son, then a chef in San Francisco who had been uncovered to Persian meals when his sister was courting an Iranian man. When Morgan returned to work in Washington in 2014, he took a category from Batmanglij, rescuing her by turning into an assistant when her lessons grew too massive and college students overwhelmed her with questions whereas she was making an attempt to deal with demonstrating six programs. (“She got to show off her personality a bit more,” says Morgan, who provides that his associate likes to bop when she cooks.) The principals’ affection for one another is made clear in dialog. Morgan refers to Batmanglij as “a second mother,” and he or she calls him her third son.

Najmieh Batmanglij is the grande dame of Iranian cooking. It’s time you knew her title.

The traditional Persian pairing of duck and pomegranate sauce originated in Gilan province, the place cooks are recognized to show it virtually black by dropping a horseshoe into the pot, Batmanglij writes in her sweeping 2018 tome, “Cooking in Iran,” for which she traveled all through the nation for the primary time since she fled the Iranian Revolution in 1979, having access to house cooks and producers with out authorities intervention. The sauce at Joon, a swoon-worthy amalgam of pureed walnuts, heat spices and garlic together with pomegranate molasses, is a thick brown blanket draped over duck legs that hardly want a fork to chop them. The entree is extra majestic for the accompanying spherical of steamed rice sporting a saffron-colored prime: tahdig, whose prized layer of crisped rice is a part of what makes it the most effective checks of a Persian kitchen. Joon aces the entire shebang.

Barramundi can also be listed as a khoresh, or stew. The fish, rubbed with turmeric and Aleppo pepper, arrives in a dark-green moat created from fish inventory, garlic, cilantro and fenugreek leaves, together with tamarind for pucker. The live performance of spicy and bitter notes acquired a spherical of applause from all takers.

Individuals going to Joon for what they’ll get on the competitors, take be aware: “Persian food is more than kebabs and rice,” says Batmanglij, who nudges even Persian prospects towards her less-common signatures. I’ll be frank. In my expertise, kebabs should not a compelling cause to go to this restaurant, the place I’ve been served bar kebab (filet mignon) so juiceless I pointed it out to a waiter when he requested me. Morgan says his Persian clientele choose beef cooked well-done, including that he want to supply diners a selection of temperatures. Sadly, Joon’s saffron-rubbed Cornish hen kebab, served as a part of a mix platter, additionally proved dry — as has the rice once in a while. The exception is the satisfying kubideh, ropy floor beef (chuck and tenderloin) sweetened with onions and shot by way of with garlic.

If there are two or extra of you, splurge on an entire rooster, fish, duck or lamb shoulder. The final, a Damavand of meat, is feast sufficient for eight folks and incites livid consuming. Cured, rinsed and seasoned with a bit pantry of spices — turmeric, cinnamon, saffron, sweet-tangy Aleppo pepper — the lamb is cooked in a single day at a low temperature and completed with a glaze made with lamb and veal inventory and butter. Chewy apricots and sticky dates sweeten the consuming, which features a base of lavash that good points taste because it absorbs the lamb’s juices. 4 of us barely put a dent within the eight or so kilos of roast beast, the leftovers of which had been divided and carried out in baggage that made us really feel like Brink’s guards transporting gold.

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Probably the most refreshing conclusions are bitter cherry sorbet spiced with cinnamon and a spherical, housemade waffle cone sandwich stuffed with ice cream infused with saffron and rose water, a perfume woven into the on a regular basis routines of Persians, the place it freshens mosques, make-up and mustaches, Batmanglij writes in her 1986 opus “Food of Life.”

Whereas engaging, Joon feels just like the suburban restaurant it’s, a bit too massive and vibrant and noisy — “a place you’d find in Dubai,” stated a eating companion. Carved screens, curtains and the occasional fringed lamp create a splash of intimacy, nonetheless, as does the service. You may rely on common supervisor Stated Haddad to introduce your cocktail with a flourish (a dusting of black lime on a daiquiri is aptly described as resembling “a galaxy”) and choose a wine to each flatter your meal and suit your finances.

The invoice, which lets diners resolve how a lot to tip, affords steered gratuities primarily based on the worth earlier than taxes. Just like the ice water left on the desk, it’s one other good gesture in a restaurant that goals to do issues in a different way, and infrequently succeeds in its mission.

8045 Leesburg Pike, Suite 120 (The Retailers at Fairfax Sq.), Vienna, Va. 571-378-1390. Open for indoor eating, supply and takeout 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. each day. Costs: dinner appetizers $11 to $17, major programs $24 to $55, shareable platters $65 to $190. Sound verify: 78 decibels/Should converse with raised voice. Accessibility: No limitations to entry; ADA-compliant restrooms.

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