I liked going to Anar, a Persian restaurant on a desolate stretch of Harrison Street, because time goes by there in golden, honeyed drips. Despite the lonely locale, it's warm and friendly, so much that I didn't even notice the six lanes of cars racing past outside.
The room is bright, decorated with artifacts from Iran. Expats from Iran run Anar, and its patrons often include Iranian expats who come for dinner or sit for hours over tea in the afternoon.
Persian food is still something of a rarity in San Francisco; though perhaps if Iranian-American relations continue to improve, we might see more. The flavor combinations – of sweetness and saffron, tart pomegranate and spices seemingly used with abandon – are unusual, even for seasoned restaurant-goers. Just for that, Anar's a refreshing break from San Francisco's current dining trends. The food is meticulously and freshly made, favorably reminding me of holes-in-the-wall in Oakland.
Anar's hand with meats is expert. Order the kabobs – they're an approachable choice.
I was impressed by the juiciness and flavor of the joojeh kabobs, boneless hunks of white chicken meat seasoned with lime and saffron. They displayed a beautiful char from the grill, yet the chicken was so juicy, it oozed. The koobideh kabobs, made with ground beef and lamb, were earthy, not overwhelmingly gamey, and their spices made me want to keep eating them.
Both kabobs came with a mound of supple rice that easily feeds two. You're given a pat of butter to melt into it, and a grilled whole plum tomato to mix in for further depth. Zereshk polo, a succulent quarter chicken festooned with bright yellow saffron rice, studded with sweet-tart barberries, and served with a small pitcher of chicken and tomato broth to pour over it, was nothing less than festive. It popped with flavor – the kind of thing that makes one's eyes close.
There were a few missteps. The mirza ghasemi, a warm dish of eggplant, garlic, tomato and spices, was bland, and further marred by cold lavash flatbread. The cold dish of yogurt and eggplant, smoky and garlicky, was better. Saffron rice pudding also was not to my taste; it was just too cold and too sweet.
Restaurants often bustle, or reach hysterical party mode, or the wait staff might look crazed, stressed-out, unhappy or merely indifferent. Not so at Anar. The staff behaves as if there is all the time in the world – not to say that the food doesn't come out at a reasonable pace. But service is particularly kind and patient, and I think that's what really makes this restaurant.
Despite its forlorn surroundings, I felt anything but forlorn at Anar, and was completely comfortable lingering over spiced, chai-like tea, sweetened with a cube of sugar, and a small dish of baklava, oozing with honey.
It's assumed you can stay at your table as long as you like. No one hovers toward the end of the meal, eyeing the remains of your food. Instead, they leave you in peace, or ask if you'd like another cup of tea.
Location: 937 Harrison St., S.F.
Contact: (415) 543-2627
Hours: Noon to 9 p.m. Tuesdays-Thursdays and Sundays, 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. Fridays, noon to 9:30 p.m. Saturdays
Recommended dishes: Zereshk polo ($17), kabab koobideh ($14), tea ($2)
Credit cards: All major