Looking at Anar Restaurant from the street, it would be hard to tell this new lunch and dinner spot was open for business. Housed in a non-descript building on an industrial stretch of Harrison Street, its single window tinted in defense against the sun, Anar looks desolate. Push open the shaded door and the scene changes. White linen-draped tables filled with nearby office workers exchange stories and laughter. Servers bustle to-and-fro, delivering drinks and taking orders. The pings and clinks of food preparation bounce out of the kitchen.
Anar, Persian for pomegranate and open since July, is the work of the Mohammadi family. Originally from Tehran, where the family ran a restaurant, the Mohammadis are all involved in this family business. Mother and chef, Hoori Mohammadi, takes care of the kitchen, father Hadi Mohammadi takes care of the business side, while daughters and in-laws serve, clear and otherwise manage the front of the house. The recipes are the family’s, prepared as they were in Tehran, and portions are ample. (Lunch and dinner menus are the same.) Seasoned with saffron and lime, kebab shishlik ($26) was five Texas-size lamb chops, served on a platter alongside a charred tomato and enough rice for four. Zereshk polo ($17) was a whole chicken quarter, slathered with oniony-tomato sauce. Thick with barberries, the accompanying mountain of rice had a tart, almost sour character. Think of barberries as smaller cranberries and the flavor, softened here with saffron, seems familiar, yet just out of the comfort range for the sweetened American palate.
Appetizers skew smaller than entrees and a soup or salad and appetizer make a budget-conscious, satisfying lunch. Not to be missed is the kashk-e-bademjan ($7). Served in a shallow bowl and topped with a dollop of dried yogurt (the kashk) and fried mint, the mustard-yellow eggplant was silky-smooth with a deep, caramelized flavor that made it impossible to stop eating. Call this fried eggplant if you must, but the simplicity of the preparation belied its soulful character. Scoop up the eggplant in the accompanying lavash and utensils become a modern inconvenience, designed to lessen the experience of the beautiful eggplant. This food deserves to be eaten with your hands. Salad-e Shirazi ($6), was a bowlful of diced cucumber, tomato and onion, dressed in lime and mint. These small plates and a glass of doogh ($4), or salted yogurt, make an exemplary lunch.
Though Anar does not serve liquor (they are lacking the requisite licenses), do take the time to savor a cup of hot tea ($2). Tradition dictates that you suck the tea through a sugar cube, strategically placed between your teeth, but this ritual gave me a mouthful of sweetness. Better to drop the cube into the fluted glass cup and sip slowly, allowing the sugar to leisurely mix with the tea, transforming it sip by sip, from bitter to sweet. Really, this is the way any meal should end.
Like a meal at any family’s house, there are a few gaps in timing. Menus were given when we were seated and water quickly arrived in a crystal blue, glass amphora with glasses to match, but we then waited quite a while before anyone asked to take our order. We could not order the beet soup as, at the start of lunch service, it was not yet ready. Once we finished eating, it was another while before plates were cleared and we were asked about dessert. Service was never anything short of friendly and every inquiry about ingredients was thoroughly answered, even if it meant a trip to the kitchen to clarify. It is not fancy here, but dining at Anar does have an intimate quality, as though you are getting to know the family through the experience of a meal.
In the fast-paced Bay Area lifestyle, a meal at Anar serves as a reminder that food should be enjoyed at a slower pace. Trying to squeeze lunch into a 30-minute window will prove challenging. Over time, as the restaurant adjusts to the frenzied nature of the San Francisco dining environment, these details will surely smooth out. In the meanwhile, enjoy the luxury of a slow-cooked meal at a slow food pace. Sit. Talk. Savor. Repeat.
Anar Restaurant / 937 A Harrison Street, near Fifth Street, San Francisco / 415-404-1948 / no website
Recipe courtesy of Hoori Mohammadi
4 small eggplants, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
About 6 mint leaves
2 teaspoons kashk (dried yogurt)*
Heat a medium sauté pan over medium-high. Add a few tablespoons of olive oil and heat until oil shimmers. Add eggplant and fry until tender and beginning to caramelize, about 10 minutes. Remove from pan with a slotted spoon and place on a plate lined with paper towels.
Add onion and garlic to pan and cook over medium-high heat until onion begins to caramelize and soften, about 8 minutes. Remove from pan with a slotted spoon and place on a plate with the eggplant.
If needed, add a bit more oil to the pan and heat until shimmering. Fry the mint leaves until crisp and dark green, 1-2 minutes. Remove from pan with a slotted spoon and drain on another paper towel.
Return the eggplant and onions to the pan, reduce heat to medium and mash with a wooden spoon until smooth. Season with salt and pepper.
Place eggplant mixture in a serving bowl. Drizzle with dried yogurt, sprinkle with mint leaves and drizzle with olive oil. Serve.
*You can make your own dried yogurt (here is a recipe), or purchase dried yogurt at a Middle Eastern grocery store.