Khayyam Restaurant

Glorious kebabs, and so much more
By ROBERT NADEAU  |  July 16, 2010
4.0 4.0 Stars

A lamb shank ($15.99) was simply the best of the year. Slow food has made lamb shanks as common as lamb chops, but this may have been the slowest of lamb shanks, so much meaty flavor falling off the bone, nothing more than a simple little tomato sauce, and a pilaff of Persian rice, dill, and limas. This pilaff is one reason I do not rank Khayyam as the best of all Persian restaurants — Persians are very, very fussy even about "plain" white rice, and have names for the crust at the bottom of the pot (taddig, here served with stew as a $4.99 appetizer), and for several techniques of steaming it: chelow, kateh, and damy. The techniques for pilau were likely developed in or very near Iran, and the best ones produce distinctly flavored pilaffs that can't be described just by listing ingredients. Of course, with a lamb shank this good, I'm not complaining, just drawing a fine distinction.

Albaloo polo morgh ($14.99) is a choice of chicken kebab or kubideh, and a rice pilaf with sweet and sour cherries and nuts. I had the kubideh and it was lovely, but with chicken you taste the egg more, and others may prefer the chicken kebabs. This complex pilaff really did not come together. (An early review suggested that the restaurant was catering to American tastes by mixing the pilaffs after cooking; here is a second vote for the traditional method.)

Stews (khoreshts) are another glory of the Persian table, but Khayyam has only two. One is the vegetarian special; the other is khoresht ghormeh sabzy ($12.99) which is a beef stew in spinach with a whole dried sour lime to set the tone. This was good, but not quite slow enough, as the some of the beef cubes were at the dried-out stage, where another half hour would have them fork tender and juicy again.

Drinks are non-alcoholic. Instead, we have a lot of soft drinks, including fresh squeezed lemonade ($1.99) and doogh ($2.99) which is a thinned yogurt drink like lassi, only more sour and salty and refreshing. It comes in regular and mint, and I recommend the mint to get yet another facet of this surprisingly versatile herb. Persian tea ($2) is strong, black, and very subtly flavored with cardamom.

The most interesting dessert is baklava ($4.49) using more pistachios and fewer almonds than the Turkish version, but here presented cutely in three little shapes: a round spring-roll baklava, the traditional lozenge, and a square purse like some Danish pastry, but smaller and sweeter. Tiramisu ($4.49) is not at all Persian, but it is a thin slice from a round cake, and very good.

Service on three visits was excellent, in some ways better when I came later and the restaurant was half-full and lively. It's never too loud, and the plasma TV was soundless and showing a soap opera subtitled in Spanish.

Wednesday to Friday now includes "family friendly" belly dancing. Probably won't hurt the food, which is only going to get better as this excellent kitchen finds its sure-to-be-numerous fans.

Robert Nadeau can be reached at robtnadeau@aol.com.

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