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THE BIG MIX : Restaurants : A Cozy Iranian Cafe in Westwood

February 05, 1989|CHARLES PERRY

"Do you like Iranian dancing?" shouts the singer. It's a rhetorical question, since she's asking in Farsi and rhythms are already being tapped out on a goblet-shaped drum.

Even before the shouts of assent die down she's started jiggling around from table to table, sometimes singing, sometimes joking and flirting, sometimes coaxing men to get up and dance themselves. It's a dance with a lot of hand movements around the face; a little like belly dance, maybe, but she's wearing an evening dress and it's really more an easy-going cousin of flamenco, without flamenco's histrionics.

The place is packed. ("Snuggle in the Cozy Restaurant," says its business card.) Whole families are here at 11 p.m. on Saturday, from grandmothers in scarfs to babes in arms. Some, though surely not the families with small children, will stay until the 4 a.m. closing time.

Four a.m., big deal. The Cozy Restaurant was once open around the clock. Owner Bruce Jalili says he only cut back the hours because he's so busy these days trying to break into Hollywood.

The Cozy Restaurant is not as wild or crowded as this most of the time, though, because the singer-dancer (who also tells a million jokes in Farsi) only performs Thursday through Saturday. Most nights a smaller audience comes to hear Iranian pop songs and the sobbing, melodramatic, highly embellished improvisations of Persian classical music, played on either of two sorts of long-necked lute.

And during the day, from 10 a.m. until the music starts 12 hours later, it's usually quiet. There will be just a few people who come to eat or chat and drink glass after stubby glass of tea.

The Cozy is right down in "Persian Gulch," that stretch of Westwood Boulevard from Santa Monica to Wilshire where a lot of Iranian restaurants and shops are found, both because of the Iranian students at UCLA and the numerous Iranian families living in the neighborhood.

The decor runs to genre paintings and old-country cooking utensils on the walls, red track lighting and a TV in the corner. One wall is grandly mirrored, to be sure, but another slants and consists of panes of glass, giving the suggestion of a greenhouse. And the Cozy would seem to suffer from a most peculiar location, buried behind a tiny seven-spot parking lot which it has to share with three other businesses.

It gets an upscale Iranian crowd anyway; the late Shah's brother has had a birthday party here. The music may have something to do with it, but there are also foods that can't be found elsewhere. Iranian restaurant menus tend to be pretty much the same; you'd probably have to go to the Cozy Restaurant for fish pilaf or the spinach and walnut frittata called kuku sabzi , or some of the specials of the day such as Iranian-style grilled liver or lamb's tongue.

You would certainly have to come for dizi . The restaurant's name may be Cozy in English, but in Farsi the sign out front says Dizi, after the house specialty. Dizi a dish of lamb, potatoes, beans, some tomato paste and aromatic preserved lime peel stewed together for seven hours.

It comes to the table in a little aluminum pot four inches high. You press the liquid out of this using a big wooden pestle and mix the thick, lamby broth with a lot of paper-thin lavash bread to make soup. Then you (or your waiter) take up the pestle again and pound the solid part of the stew into a puree, which you eat with a fork and lemon juice, a solid, peasant-like counterpoint to the rather elegant soup. This is a dish of the ghahveh-khanehs or teahouses of Tehran, and although it's a unique specialty, it's also the cheapest entree on the menu.

Owner Bruce Jalili, who looks a like a younger, cuter Michael Nouri, is an authentic self-starter. He first opened a wholesale Iranian book store in this location four years ago. Then he started having readings by Iranian and Afghani poets on Tuesday nights, then tripled the size of the place and put in a kitchen and bingo, it was a nightclub.

While plunging into Hollywood (there's a photo of him with Sly Stallone on the wall), Jalili is sticking with the Cozy, and working to reinforce his Iranian heritage. He's starting a new Iranian theater, and he plans to open a zur-khaneh , a sort of gymnasium where you work out not to Jane Fonda tapes but to recitations from the Iranian national epic.

Like everyone else in L.A., of course, he has written a screenplay. It's titled "How to Survive in America." It does not, however, include the recipe for dizi .

Cozy Restaurant, 1781 Westwood Blvd., Los Angeles, (213) 477-2626. Open for lunch and dinner from 10 a.m. to 4 a.m daily. No alcoholic beverages but liquor license is pending. Street parking. Dinner for two, food only, $16 to $30 .

This special issue was edited by David Fox, Sunday Calendar assistant editor.

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