"What do I miss most?" says Kathy. "I miss the life. Iranians know the secret of living. Here, we rush around so much we miss life. There, people take time. They love sharing food and talk at home, with family, with friends. The art of conversation is much more highly evolved. Every Persian's a poet."
Wow. And this is Kathy, all-American, ex-federal attorney. She spent years in Iran with her Iranian husband. Knows Persian cuisine. So the fact that she's eating here is a good omen.
Hank and I came because, well, we were in a hurry. "International Fast Food," the sign said. No hint it was Persian, till you saw the big poster talking up $4.99 lunch specials. Choice of "Koobideh Kebob, Lubia Polo, Chicken Kebob."
It's a colorful place sandwiched between an employment shop called "Hire Ground" and "Panda King," a Chinese eatery. We passed through pillars and vines to get to a clean, newly designed interior. Counter at the back, waterfall mural on the right. There's a crackled gold surface on the upper part of the walls and a braided rope circling the ceiling.
We came across Kathy standing in line at the counter. Now she's speaking Farsi, the Iranian language. Think she's ordering "zereshk polo" ($7.99).
Polo, as in pollo, Spanish for "chicken"? Uh, no. "Polo means 'rice,' " says Narges, the sparkling-faced little lady behind the counter. But it is a chicken dish. "So zereshk means 'chicken'?" I ask. Buzzer again. "Zereshk is the dried barberries."
Ah yes. Those tart red curranty things put in to add zest to the rice. "Iranian cooking is all about delicate flavor combinations," Kathy says. "Once you eat Persian, you can't go back to, like, a piece of meat on a plate."
"Do you do a lot of salads?" Hank asks.
"Oh sure," says Narges. She lists a bunch, including shirazi salad (a combo of cucumbers, tomatoes, parsley, and onions, $2.99), and three meat-salad combos, $6.99.
"We have koobideh kebob salad, which is lettuce, sliced tomatoes, olives, and skewers of charbroiled ground beef and lamb, shish kebob salad -- the same salad, but with beef -- and chicken kebob salad."
"Sounds good," Hank says.
"The chicken?" she asks.
Narges looks at me.
"And you, sir?"
"See ya," says Hank. "I'm sitting. Don't think my legs'll hold up for how long this is gonna take."
"Buddy boy," I say. "I'll have this order in before your butt hits the chair."
So quick now: I race through those $4.99 lunch specials again. Lubia polo is rice mixed with green beans, koobideh kebob's a skewer of charbroiled ground beef and lamb, with pita bread and yogurt, and chicken kebob comes with basmati rice and salad.
"Comin' in to land," says Hank.
Turns out lubia polo is known as "the Persian stew." You can also get it with ground beef or lamb. For some reason, though, I'm thinking vegetarian.
"Vegetarian?" says Narges. "No problem. We have a special every day, $4.99. Today it has eggplant, zucchini, cauliflower, cabbage, squash, bell pepper, carrots..."
"Wheels down?" Hank says. "Final approach..."
"Okay, I'll have that," I say.
"And touchdown! That's one small step for Bedford, one giant relief for mankind."
"Very funny," I say. "You know what your problem is? You can't experience the joys of indecision, tasting, smelling, imagining each of the things..."
"You've just said it all, bro. You like to imagine, I like to eat. Can't eat imagination."
As it turns out, we both get more than we imagined. Narges brings us -- and everyone else here -- bowls of lentil soup to start off. "On the house," she says. Then my vegetarian dish comes, along with basmati rice. As Kathy said, it's all gentle tasting, led by that delicious squelchy sound of the eggplant.
Hank's chicken kebob has half a dozen charbroiled chicken chunks at one end of the oval plate, lots of greens, purple cabbage, tomato slices, green olives. "Saffron. I'm tasting saffron," he says.
Narges's son Paul says the soup extra was typical. "My mom has a big heart. As Muslims, we're expected to feed the poor on certain days. Back in Tehran she would always make huge amounts, like 150 pounds of rice and food to feed, like, 200 people. That's my mom."
Up at the counter, Kathy's asking for something called doogh.
"It settles your stomach and helps you sleep," Narges explains.
Hmm. Two bucks. "It's yogurt with mineral water and mint," says Narges. "A lot of Americans don't like it."
Hey hey. Now there's a challenge. Glug. Oh man. See why. It's a little sour. Natural yogurt. But the mint sure gives it a lift. Second slurp, it's more refreshing. Kinda makes you feel mellow, too. We sit back and chat awhile, about how old the Persian culture is. About Persian food, Persian kings, Cyrus the Great, who, turns out, created pretty much the first-ever human rights statutes. And when it comes to Persian poetry, 'course I have to let loose a verse from "The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam," the only poet I can ever remember.
"Here, with a loaf of bread beneath the bow,
"A flask of wine, a book of verse, and thou...
"Beside me singing in the wilderness --
"And wilderness is paradise enow."
"Enow?" says Hank.
"Poetic license, dude."
"Whatever, we gotta split."
"Slow down, dude. Think Persian. Uh, got dough for another doogh?"