Photograph by Felipe Buitrago
THE ONE THAT DIDN'T GET AWAY: Deezi's owner Mike Dormanesh spears some tasty taftoon.
The Persian Palate
Deezi's Café in San Jose serves rare treats, including the hard-to-find namesake dish
By Stett Holbrook
WHEN CAMPBELL'S Deezi's Café closed last September, Silicon Valley lost one of its best Persian restaurants. Not only were their koobideh kebabs some of the best I've had, but the deezi, a lamb shank stew from which the restaurant takes its name, was not only distinctive and delicious but also unique among the half-dozen or so Persian restaurants I've tried in the South Bay, and when the family-run restaurant shut down, it wasn't available anywhere. Now the restaurant has reopened in a different form in a new location in San Jose. Now called Deezi's Café Persia, the new space is bright, cheery and more casual. There's a big-screen TV playing games, UFC fights and the occasional nature documentary. Prices have come down a bit, too. The old place was more formal and a bit dowdy.
The new restaurant opened about two months ago and occupies a spot in a shopping center that has to be one of Silicon Valley's best for out-of-the ordinary dining. In addition to Deezi's, the shopping center's culinary riches include Zeni, one of the valley's best Ethiopian restaurants; Tanto, a great izakaya restaurant; and Taiwan Bistro, one of the area's few Taiwanese restaurants.
Part of Deezi's appeal is the friendly father-and-son duo of Mike and Fred Dormanesh, who run it. Mike Dormanesh wanted to get out the restaurant business after he sold his share of the Campbell restaurant, but his son, Fred, pulled him back in to help him run the new place.
The deezi was the highlight at the old place, and it's just as good here. The hearty meal is prepared tableside, which is part of the appeal. Fred or Mike will pour the tomato-based broth from a metal bowl into a serving bowl and then pound the mixture of lamb shank, garbanzo beans, tomatoes and herb with a wooden pestle into a rough paste. The mixture is then added back with the tomato broth. It's particularly good with a few spoonfuls of shor torshi ($2.95 half-order, $4.95 full order), wonderfully intense pickled chopped vegetables. You eat the stew with pieces of fresh taftoon (naanlike bread) and bits of mint, basil, feta and onions served along with it. It's a simple, satisfying dish that comes from Fred's grandfather, who used to serve it at a hotel and restaurant he owned in Tehran.
As good as the deezi is, the soul of menu is the kebabs, and the koobideh kebab ($5.95 half-order, $8.95 full order) are outstanding. Made from ground beef blended with puréed onions, garlic and various spices, the skewered and grilled meat stick is beautifully grilled and so tender and juice-filled it squirts when you bite down on it. The joojeh kebab ($5.95 half-order, $8.95 full order) scores as well. Made with a chicken breast or thigh meat, the yogurt-and-saffron-marinated meat is juicy and tangy. The same goes for the joojeh hatam ($12.95), perfectly grilled Cornish game hen kebabs.
Most Persian restaurants serve kashke bademjan, puréed roasted eggplant, and Deezi's makes a faithful version ($3.95 half, $5.95 full) of the classic; it's topped with fried mint, yogurt and fried shallots. Not as common is the mirzagasemi ($3.95 half, $5.95 full), puréed roasted eggplants blended with scrambled eggs, garlic and fresh tomatoes into a dip that's smoky and silky with the acidic bite of the tomatoes.
Ghameh sabzi ($8.95) is another classic done well here. The tomato-based stew combines tender chunks of beef with lentils, eggplant and the one-of-a-kind, salty-sour taste of dried limes. My favorite way to get it is on top of tahdig ($3.95 half, $5.75), the crispy, chewy layer of rice from the bottom of the pot that's treated like the delicacy it is in Iran.
In addition to the deezi, Deezi's has a few other dishes I've never seen on local Persian restaurant menus, like the kaleh pacheh ($12.95), a simple soup made with lamb tongue, lamb cheek meat and tendon from the lamb head. On my visit, they were out of the cheek meat and tendon, so mine was made with just tongue, three to be exact. The broth itself was quite nice, aromatic and enriched with the gamey tang of lamb, but the tongues were too much for me and the gaminess quotient was turned up too high. I think the addition of the cheek meat would have rounded it out a bit. If I had it again, I'd order a side of torshi. The vinegary bite of the relish would have been just the thing to offset the lamby bits.
The offal-loaded soup is a traditional breakfast in Iran, but Fred Dormanesh admitted that it's a little much for him. If Persian breakfasts are your thing, try the halim ($8.95), a traditional morning meal not requiring the same gustatory verve. It's essentially a Persian-style cream of wheat made with tender shredded beef. Served unsweetened, the addition of a little honey and cinnamon makes it easy to like. It's good, but I think I'll stick with my yogurt and granola for breakfast. But for lunch and dinner, I'm coming back for more kebabs and deezi.
Deezi's Café Persia
Address: 1312 Saratoga Ave., San Jose.
Hours: 11:30am–9:30pm Mon–Thu and 11:30am–10pm Sat–Sun.
Price Range: Most dishes $5.95–$12.95.
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