Yalda Persian Cuisine’s Quick Success
Ash Famili used his family recipes and training at Sufi’s Kitchen and Kyma to open a Persian/Mediterranean restaurant in Sandy Springs with eyes on a Howell Mill location.
After 35 years with the Atlanta newspapers, Marcia currently serves as Retail VP for the Buckhead Business Association, where she delivers news and trends (laced with a little gossip).
Opening on Dec. 14 to a resounding bevy of admiring Sandy Springs diners, Yalda co-owner and executive chef Ashkan Famili packed in 10 years’ experience at Buckhead Life’s Kyma and Sufi’s Kitchen in a career that is well above “overnight success.”
Famili combined the flavors of Turkey and northern Iraq, along with traditional family Persian and Mediterranean cuisine, to compile a compact menu composed of spreads, Mezze, wraps, specialty entrees, fresh veggies, daily soups and stews, sauces, rice and potatoes, and desserts.
Before digging into the naan and traditional Persian amuse with radish, tarragon, melt-in-the-mouth cubes on skewers, and dilled fava beans, savor Yalda’s meaning in that, in Iranian culture, the coming of light over darkness is the longest night of the year, bringing friends and loved ones together to share food, wine, and good wishes. Also known as the winter solstice, it’s the rebirth of Mitra, the sun god, where particularly red foods like watermelon, persimmons, beets and pomegranates are eaten.
The last two are on Yalda’s bill of fare and décor, with pomegranate symbols on the neon sign, coasters, and, of course, the food and cocktails. The “purple-y” beet salad ($12) was the table favorite garden selection with pickled beets, onions, walnuts, greens, goat’s milk feta cheese, tossed in red wine vinaigrette. The Mediterranean salad and Shirazi salad were prepared with equal precision with accurate dicing and farm fresh ingredients.
Tucked in the Aria mixed-use development, spanning both sides of Abernathy Road, adjacent to the Mercedes Benz headquarters, Yalda has free, easy parking out front and faces La Parilla Mexican in its retail circle. Entering Yalda and gazing up at its expansive scope and high ceiling, is on the side of breathtaking. The industrial vibe contrasted with crystal chandeliers really works…but not so much being able to mask the noise level.
There’s the patio to the left, bar to the right, then, spanning silhouettes of Persian symbols, the bustling open kitchen, an elevated visible private room; then, you’ll find the pale pink faux flower tendrils that seem to be de rigueur with Mediterranean restaurants like atop an entire room at the new Zakia on Lenox Road. Finally, there’s the creamy whiteness of it all.
One of the reasons for Yalda’s success is the dutiful Ashkan standing by the charring open grill, inspecting, and approving each dish before it is brought tableside. Considering the capacity crowd on a Saturday night, the food was not backed up. A few things never made it out, but no one cared. Coming from the Buckhead Life culture, Famili learned well from entrepreneur Pano Karatassos, who made it his business each night to be on the floor sporting an eagle’s eye.
The cocktail list started with $6 beers, 23 wine choices, interesting Lazardis Amethysos Greece ($8 glass); sparkling-like Clarendale Bordeaux Rose at $85 would be an appropriate pairing and looked most appealing. Six craft cocktails lead with “the Longest Night” ($12) with vodka, sage, orange bitters and the thematic pomegranate syrup. Mitra’s Habibi ($13) contains gin, lemon, honey and the thematic saffron bitters and sumac syrup.
What else we experienced:
• Open-flamed veggie kabob ($17)
• Sumptuous salmon kabob ($26): skin on with fava beans and dill rice
• Adas Polo fish and rice ($26): two large pieces of wild trout in a roasted red pepper sauce with Zereshk Polo rice with tart ruby barberries.
• Desserts: exquisitely plated baklava ($9) with a scoop of saffron ice cream. Sprinkles of pistachio spoke of an artist’s palette. The baklava could have benefited from less phylo (though it had a nice flaky crunch) and more of the gooey, nutty honey filling; saffron pana cotta ($9) — the lightest, fluffiest sculptured white cloud served alongside a poached pear in rosewater.
• A vertical sauces panel detailed seven sauces from Harissa to Seer Torshi — barrel aged pickles (extra charge from $3 to $5)
Next time: Try the requisite falafel wrap with Zatar fries.
Bottom line: With Rumi’s Kitchen and Zafron just blocks away, no need to ponder if Sandy Springs has the room for yet another Persian restaurant. The early crowds speak to that.
Yalda is closed Monday and not yet open for lunch. It’s located at 6500 Aria Blvd. A second location is planned for West Midtown. 470-355-0195.