I’m no Imelda Marcos whose introduction to Persia came from attending the Persepolis Celebrations in 1971, and certainly, my idea of Persian or Arabic dining isn’t on the scale of the late Shah Reza Pahlavi (see We are awake: 2,500-year celebrations revisited). But from time time, and pretty often, I get the craving for Arab/Persian food and as I get older I get more finicky about it. Arab food on the cheap can’t be beat when it comes to Behrouz; and if your idea of restaurant dining is to have semi-decent food while providing the restaraunteur every opportunity to dip into your wallet, by all means go to Hossein’s, where they even charge you for the garlic sauce essential for kebab consumption.
But there is a little Imelda in all of us. There are times we just want to eat, and eat well.
There has to be a place which serves premium meat and which uses the best available ingredients, but which charges as reasonably as possible. For some time now, I’ve considered that place to be Arya Persian Restaurant in Greenhills. In its early days, the restaurant was a bit over the top -the waitstaff called customers “Your Majesty”- but having abandoned its “every-customer-a-Shah” gimmick, it settled down to being a nice place to eat. See E. Xsaltire’s Site for a more scientific review of the place. Until quite recently, the only thing wrong with the place was that it had a rather confusing menu, but since I usually ordered the same thing, that wasn’t much of a problem.
They serve really delicious free peanuts, the slightly-but-not-too greasy kind, and slightly spicy. You gotta love a place that starts you off with free spicy peanuts.
And after years of only knowing the rather anemic Hummus of Behrouz, it was a delight to discover the Hummus at Arya (their Moutabal is the best, too: slightly garlicky) which I still think is the best Hummus around. I’d eaten most of the Hummus before I remembered to take this photo, so sorry. The gloop in the dish is an onion concoction called Khask Badenjan which is normally quite tasty, but more on this anon.
But my main addiction has been their lamb shish kebab, which I usually had with fluffy rice. The waitstaff offer to take your tomatoes and mash them for you, which pleases some customers.
Aside from their lamb shish kebab being of high quality lamb, it’s the garlic sauce of the place that really got me hooked. When it comes to some sauces my inner Imelda comes out and moderation is not my idea of consumption. Arya’s lamb shish kebab, cut up into little cubes, doused with garlic sauce, then doused again so they absorb as much sauce as possible, and then periodically re-doused as you eat it with the by-now-mashed roasted tomatoes, is heaven!
And seriously, you have to adore a cuisine that puts dollops of butter on its rice. Everyone should put butter on their rice. If it’s Basmati rice.
And the other speciality that I like very much is Mahiche Polo, which is a lamb shank in some sort of spicy gloop, normally quite tasty (the yellow Basmati rice above is the partner of this dish; the Basmati you get with the shish kebab is the white kind but also with a lovely dollop of butter). Returning to the issue I hinted at with the Khask Badenjan photo, on the night we dined at Arya, most of the food went wrong.
Terribly, awfully, wrong. Shockingly so. The Khask Badenjan was off in terms of its flavor, resembling, for some reason, a packet of Lipton Onion Soup mix moistened with a little water; my kebab was a pale color and, I was horrified to observe, tasted more like Caldereta than a kebab (quite edible anyway which is why I consumed it; put enough lovely garlic sauce on anything, I guess…), and the Mahiche Polo’s gloop was hardly gloopy, indeed, rather soupy, and lacking in flavor.
My companions were quite disgruntled and my loyalty to the restaurant at issue, when the owner strolled by we buttonholed him and he proceeded to debate us on our critique, admitting the Khask Badenjian was, to put it mildly, inferior, yet highly defensive about the Mahiche Polo, whose unsatisfactory condition he couldn’t blame on the kitchen as he prepares it himself. He was frankly skeptical of my complaint about the lamb kebab and in the end, he said we’d have to come back and see if the standards had really deteriorated.
He did send us a plate of watermelon by way of thanks for the input, though.
I haven’t been back since, but in the meantime, my offended companions brought me to Cyma Estiatorio (both the one in Greenbelt and at TriNoMa) where I kept having a Malu Fernandez Moment whenever the waiters all got together and bellowed “OOOOOO-H-PAAAAH!!!!!” to commemorate the serving of some signature dish.
The appetizer platter (Pikilia it’s called?) is a crowd-pleaser. Hummus! Cheese with a pepper! Cucumber and yogurt! Mashed eggplant with diced tomatoes! And a radioactively pink fish roe thingy! How could you go wrong? With lots of whole wheat pita bread!
And here, ladies and germs, is what a lamb shish kebab ought to look like. Compare its color with the color of the unfortunate lamb shish kebab I last had at Arya. This is consistently good, I’ve had it seven times already and it’s been good each time and in either branch.
No one has been able to tell me an antidote for the unfortunate garlic breath both restaurants inspires, though.