At Darioush — a new French-Persian restaurant in Beverly Hills — unexpected flavors dart across the tongue as quickly as exclamations of surprise and with equal vicissitude.
What you thought was a hint of cinnamon quickly changes direction, leaving a sweet trace of mint, and the rich, full-bodied flavor that permeates a slender slice of aubergine turns out to be the work of a mesquite broiler rather than a coating of smoky spice. Ingredients are both exotic and familiar: pomegranate, mint, saffron, lime, mango, dates and basmati rice play prominently on the menu and are prepared using modern French cooking techniques.
"Generally, Persian cuisine is not identified as a fine-dining cuisine, and I'm trying to change that," says Darioush's chef and owner Darioush Danesh, explaining why he chose to blend French and Persian elements on his menu.
Danesh was born in Iran, but his parents fled after the revolution. They sent him to England to further his education, and it was there he became passionate about cooking. He focused on modern English food while cooking for upscale restaurants such as the Belvedere in London. Two years ago, he visited friends in L.A., fell for the city and opted to move here.
Striking out on his own — with the help of his wife, Shirin — wasn't easy, but now that he's settled in a warm and intimate spot on La Cienega's Restaurant Row (in what was once a retail shop) he says that the trouble was worth it.
"I'm very passionate about my food. I take so much pleasure in serving it, and when somebody says it was good, well, that's why I do it," he says, adding that Gordon Ramsay is an idol of his. "I've been following his recipes for years. He makes great use of French technique."
As does Danesh. For example, wild king salmon is cooked silky-soft in parchment (en papillote), dabbed with saffron-lime butter and tangy dill and served with a fava bean rice cake, and pommes Anna (potatoes cooked fat and crisp with melted butter) accompany oven-roasted duck breast dusted with cinnamon, nutmeg and lavender and served with creamed Jerusalem artichokes, wild mushrooms and a jus of dates and red wine.
Along more traditionally Persian lines, there is an intriguing selection of mesquite char-grilled kebabs including prime Angus rib-eye steak, California rack of lamb, branzino filet and corn-fed chicken breast. Most of the meat used is free range and hormone free, and the produce is seasonal.
The modest, well-curated global wine list was put together by Chase Wills, a former Four Seasons sommelier. There is also a nice sampling of Champagne and sparkling wine as well as a selection of wines from Darioush winery in Napa Valley (which has nothing to do with the restaurant other than Danesh is friends with the owner, Darioush Khaledi).
The languor with which a nice glass of wine should be enjoyed is perfect for the environs of Darioush, with its calming sage-colored walls; dark wood tables; simple wooden bar with wine lodged in small, lighted, wooden cubes; large oil paintings of seaside scenes and dapper sophisticates; and a refined smattering of calla lilies.
After all, relaxation is exactly what Danesh wants from you. "When you come to my restaurant, I want you to feel as if you came to my home," he says.
Where: 111 N. La Cienega Blvd., Beverly Hills
When: 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 5 to 11 p.m. Mondays to Saturdays
Price: Appetizers, $8 to $15; entrees, $16 to $32; wine by the glass, $8 to $19
Contact: (310) 289-0300; www.darioushrestaurant.com