R: Because we hadn't experienced really tasty Persian food in the past, we tended to shy away from Persian restaurants, thinking they had little to offer vegetarians.
Z: Our exceptional dining experience at Darband proved us wrong. By chance we wandered into this delightful restaurant while looking for a place to have a late lunch.
R: The ambience spoke of subtle elegance--soft yellow tablecloths under glass tops, cloth napkins, a large, handsome bar finished like cherry wood with a uniquely grained marble top and cherry wood barstools.
Z: As we were seated, we noted that even the chairs were of the same cherry wood and elegantly upholstered in a burgundy fabric. The walls were of a rich mustard color with accents a hue between saffron and burgundy.
R: Our waiter, Said, brought us menus and soon after arrived with water and a basket of lavash and butter. We ignored the butter and nibbled on the lavash to temper our hunger while we perused the menu.
Z: Darband is not a vegetarian restaurant but offers seven vegan entrees on the menu in addition to several vegetarian appetizers, three of them vegan. The foods were unfamiliar to us, yet all of the offerings were appealing. Challenged by the tempting choices, we vacillated between at least two dishes each before making our selection. With great concentration on the dishes listed, I finally chose the Vegetarian Adas Polo.
R: I didn't struggle as hard as Zel said I did, but finally decided to order the Vegetarian Fesenjon. With each dish we had a choice of a Green Salad or the Shirazi Salad. We both chose the Shirazi Salad. I think it was because it sounded exotic, but Zel said we made that choice because it was a departure from the usual mixture of greens served at most restaurants.
Z: While we waited for our meal, Reuben looked down and remarked that our table was standing in the middle of the wooden dance floor. Then we noticed there was a small, low stage in the corner with musical equipment. Said told us they have live Persian music every night except Wednesday.
R: And on Tuesday nights they have belly dancing. We definitely have to come back on a Tuesday night. Said emphasized that evenings are so busy it's important to make reservations for dinner. We were curious if Darband was simply a name or had a special meaning. Said told us it was the name of a lovely city near the mountains outside of Tehran.
Z: Our lunch arrived with servings so large we knew we would have a second meal from the leftovers. The giant oval platters were heaping, aromatic, and colorful. My dish, the Vegetarian Adas Polo, had a large mound of rice with many treasures embedded, such as cooked lentils, onions, sautéed golden raisins, tiny black raisins, and whole dates. The rice, the centerpiece of Persian cuisine, was coated with peanut oil and well seasoned. Every bite held a pleasant balance between savory flavors and the sweetness of the raisins and dates.
R: The Vegetarian Fesenjon was probably one of the most unique dishes my adventurous palate had ever encountered. On my platter was also a huge mound of rice with a topping of saffron coated rice as garnish. In a separate ramekin, garnished with parsley and a tomato, was a walnut stew that consisted of pulverized walnuts, onions, pomegranate syrup, lemon juice, and saffron. This deep burgundy colored mixture is spooned over the seasoned rice and offers a rich sweet-tart flavor that I found memorable. Our only regret was that the voluminous mound of white rice was not a more nutritious brown rice.
Z: Both our dishes came with a vegetable kebob of grilled green peppers, onions, and a whole grilled tomato. The Shirazi Salad, a wholesome mixture of diced cucumbers, tomatoes, onions, and parsley with a lime and oil dressing, was in a separate bowl that rested on the end of the oval platter.
R: Hearty eaters would not go hungry at Darband, quite new on the Los Angeles dining scene with only a six-month track record. The atmosphere is bright and airy with high ceilings, comfortable furnishings, and attractive décor. The diners are friendly, too. We began chatting with Raffi, who lavished praise on the food and the restaurant. When we told him we enjoyed Middle Eastern foods, he was delighted and enthusiastically recommended a host of other restaurants.
Z: Other entrée offerings that beckoned were the Vegetarian Baghaly Polo made with lima beans, dill, and rice, and the Vegetarian Albalou Polo with sour cherries cooked in sweet and sour sauce served with rice.
R: More choices were the Vegetarian Sabzi Polo that combines green onions, cilantro, parsley, baby dill, garlic, and fenugreek in an herb sauce served over rice, and the Vegetarian Dish with sautéed vegetables in a tomato sauce served over rice.
Z: Scanning the menu for other vegetarian items, we looked longingly at the soups with their bounty of vegetables, but learned they had a chicken stock base. On the appetizer list were Hummus and a Persian version of baba ghanoush called Kashk-E-Bademjan.
R: Just as we were leaving, we met Bruce Gavami, the owner, who told us that this location was formerly the site of an Italian restaurant. When we asked Bruce to compliment the chef, he told us there were two chefs, Javier and Arturo, two names we didn't expect to hear operating a Persian kitchen.
Reviewed May 2003