Before the enormous crowds inundate the area and snarl traffic to a halt, I ventured to the neighborhood to scout out some of the vegetarian choices that would be a good spot for a bite and cozy atmosphere to rest, since Outside Lands has never been known for comfort or short lines.
My stroll took me to Irving Street and a destination that couldn’t be any more warm and homey, down to the saffron walls evoking the Mediterranean and a prominent fireplace in the room. You’re welcomed at Lavash
by a small complimentary platter of tomatoes, mint, cucumber, feta cheese, and the namesake thin flatbread, which is one notch doughier than a cracker texture.
Persian cuisine revolves around meat kebabs on pillowy basmati rice dishes. Fortunately, Lavash serves a vegetable kebab ($10) that still captures the allure of the grill and nicely chars the produce without losing its personality. Each vegetable gets brushed with plenty of olive oil and spices. Yellow and red bell peppers are the majority of the vegetables with a few sliced onions given just enough time on the grill to lose their pungent raw state. However, I would’ve liked at least another minute to give them the beautiful sweetness they can achieve when caramelized.
The moist zucchini medallions are winners since they are the best of the vegetables at absorbing the spices. However, it’s no contest that the two halved charred tomatoes are the stars of the selection, bursting upon impact with peak of summer flavor.
The regular kebab comes with basmati rice and more lavash bread. For $4, it’s more than worth the upgrade to the “Adas Polo” as the kebab’s accompaniment — it’s the rice version of economy to business class. Basmati rice becomes sweet and fragrant from a glorious potpourri of sautéed dates, raisins, onions, and lentils, all given tremendous seasoning depth from cinnamon and orange zest. A friend of mine who was born in Iran once told me as we dined on a similar dish elsewhere that the secret to a Persian “jeweled rice” dish is the amount of butter used, possibly more than in French croissants. You can taste a little butter in Lavash's version, but by no means is it close to a croissants’ richness. After all, the restaurant's website talks about the importance of healthful eating and that the chef/owner even was a state racquetball champion.
Speaking of that pile of rice, the serving size of rice is serious. It’s at least two, maybe three diners’ worth and comes on top of a sheet of lavash bread.
If you’re hungry, opt for two kebabs a person and share one serving of rice. Or better yet, explore the appetizer, soup and salad options as kebab preludes. Lentil soup spiced with ground cumin, refreshing yogurt and cucumber dips, and a quiche called “kookoo sabzi” garnished with barberries all tempt prior to kebabs and rice.
Whether it’s as a respite from the Outside Lands crowd and cold or you happen to be around UCSF, Lavash is a very welcoming spot for a grilled vegetable kebab and rice plates. Just don’t fill up too much on that lavash because there’s lots more to enjoy.
511 Irving; 664-5555.
Apparently there is some big music festival coming up this weekend in Golden Gate Park. Even though the food, beer, and wine “lands” are very impressive for a series of concerts in a park, you’ll probably need a meal before venturing into the fray, or maybe you spent so much time trying to get to the front row for Kanye, you didn’t have time to visit the food tents. That’s what the Inner Sunset's restaurants are for.