Hummus a Few Bars
Photo by Jack GouldFor millennia, the people of the Mediterranean have fought and even killed one another over matters both sublime and ridiculous. Among the former is the authorship of food. Falafel, for example: Would that be Lebanese or Greek? And hummus: Jerusalem or Moroccan? Then there are yogurt dishes: Indian or Persian? Don't ask the locals; each will claim the food is their own, and that's probably reasonable. If hot dogs and apple pie weren't such embarrassing claims to fame, Americans would surely face a similar dilemma.
It's best to be guided through these controversies by a local. So when I got a hankering for Persian, I sought out Mr. Goodtipper, who suggested Orchid—partly for the food, he admitted, and partly because it stays open until 3:30 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. Orchid is where many stories of crazy partying end. We called in a couple of other friends to try it with us—Ms. Red Meat and Mr. Fast Food.
It wasn't a completely unfamiliar experience. Like most Indian and Middle Eastern restaurants, Orchid meets a standard of interior decoration that goes one or two steps too far: higher-than-high ceilings, mirrors, wall murals, silk flowers and window tapestries adorned the palatial space. I noted with a sense of foreboding that in the geographic center of the enormous dining room was a stage set with huge speakers. I requested a table at the outer limits.
Lining the dining-room walls was Orchid's brigade-strength waitstaff in starched, white button-downs and shiny black slacks. Their dark presence made for efficient but somewhat nerve-racking service. At times, we weren't sure whether to ask for something by nodding our head casually or by jumping up and saluting.
Mr. Goodtipper explained a few traditional items on the menu and ordered for all of us. We started with hummus ($3.49) sprinkled with bits of black olives and showered with a dark wine paprika powder. Richer and smokier than most hummus I've tasted, this made for an interesting introduction to the meal. Instead of the pita bread I'm used to eating with hummus, Orchid served a wider, rounder flatbread. Curious, I asked one of our many servers what it was called. He replied sternly, "Bread." I'd have said it was a sort of roti, an Indian flatbread. It was a little dry but had a pleasant, soft texture and was served warm. Raw onions were served alongside the butter, as if the two were always meant for each other. Feeling brave (and with no plans for a date), I munched on bread, butter and raw onions. An interesting combo and not bad.
For the main entrée, I had fish. Ms. Red Meat had red meat. Mr. Fast Food and Mr. Goodtipper opted for chicken. The funny thing was that our dinners arrived looking roughly the same: the meats perfectly cubed and arranged in a half-moon shape with a perfect oval of rice and a small dome of vegetables. The only thing distinguishing one plate from another was the meat. But I guess that's the way it's done at Orchid: servers uniformly lined up as well as the plates.
The brooding waitstaff, the hefty speakers and tacky wall mirrors had not boded well for the main course, but the eating dispelled any anxiety. My mahi kabob ($12.99), a marinated white fish skewered and charbroiled, was abundant with hints of garlic, lemon, turmeric, paprika and onion. The basmati rice was as fluffy as cumulus clouds and as flavorful as fresh-popped popcorn (the flavor that usually underlies this particular rice). My vegetable dish—tomatoes and cucumbers dressed in a yogurt, cucumber, and mint sauce ($2.99)—was a nice contrast to the fish.
I was pleased, and apparently, so were the others, who, when they took a moment from the consumption of their precisely arranged items, offered either a thumbs up or merely muffled sounds of pleasure.
As for the origins of all these foods . . . well, a full stomach renders most questions inconsequential.
Orchid Persian Cuisine Grill and Bar, located at 3033 S. Bristol St., Ste. D, Costa Mesa, is open Sun., 11:30 a.m.-9:30 p.m.; Mon.-Thurs., 11:30 a.m.-9:30 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., until 3:30 a.m. (limited menu after 10 p.m.). (714) 557-8070. Dinner for two, $25, food only. All Major credit cards accepted.
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