Restaurant Spotlight: Arya Global Cuisine
“Can I get you something to drink? How about some Persian tea?” asks Fera Hashemi of Arya Global Cuisine (885 Middlefield). She slides into the booth with two mugs in hand. The air between us smells of rose water and subsides to cardamom. Across the wooden table, I am captivated by Fera’s byzantine blue eyes, but she’s just excited that I like the tea. “This is what I love to do - take people on a journey through Persian food.” A third mug of tea, transported in the hand of a friendly giant, joins us at the table. Michael Hashemi, Fera’s husband and Arya’s chef, settles in. First, he wants to be clear: at Arya he cooks Italian food and he cooks Persian food, but not fusion food. His hand waving towards the open kitchen, he explains, “One half of our kitchen is dedicated to Persian, and there on the other side of the pizza oven is the Italian side.” The division is understandable. Afterall, Michael grew up in Iran learning his mother’s cooking. Fleeing the violence that gripped his home country in the late 1970s, he landed in Italy where he learned Italian cooking. Each are separate and distinct - he wouldn’t dream of combining the two.
The air cleared on the subject of fusion cuisine, a large round of bread - taftoon - arrives at the table. Fresh from the woodfired oven, the taftoon is accompanied by a delicate bowl of cilantro chutney. “We add jalapeno for people who come in looking for spicy,” Fera explains, “People assume that Persian food is very hot, like Indian food. But it’s much more subtle, with fresh and aromatic flavors.” My personal tour of Arya - the Persian half, mostly - has officially begun.
Quickly following is a thick column of stacked rice and vegetables, rising out of a saucy sea of vibrant yellow. It’s called the VegeTower, Michael explains as he points out the layers constructed of basmati rice, spinach, caramelized onions, tomato and eggplant. The surrounding moat is a saffron yogurt sauce. It’s rich and creamy, but what stands out to me is how Michael has taken otherwise familiar vegetables to an otherworldly level.
It’s the arrival of a dish called Red Velvet Salmon that reveals a secret about Fera. “Michael made this dish for me, because I’m so picky. I’m his food muse,” she laughs. Michael chuckles, but doesn’t disagree. As I dive into the salmon with a sour cherry reduction sauce, navigator Fera directs her attention to my fork. “Now make sure you try a bite with all of the elements together. Get some of the garlic mashed potatoes.” When the eggplant and onion borani bademjoon arrives, it’s Michael’s turn. He slides the remaining taftoon closer. “Put some on the bread and then add a little maust o’khiar (yogurt and mint sauce).” Together the Hashemis are a perfect pair: Michael the craftsman chef, Fera the vibrant show woman.
So enthralled by the parade of dishes, I have to consciously set down my fork to find out how the two met. A classic case of chef meets hostess, Michael had just moved from Italy to Newport Beach and began working at the same restaurant as Fera.
Growing a family while building a restaurant business, it was in the early 2000s when Michael and Fera were ready to sign for another restaurant in Laguna Beach. Then Fera’s parents dropped the news that they were moving to the Bay Area. Explains Fera, “There was no way we could open another restaurant without the support of grandparents, so we moved, too!”
Though seasoned restaurant owners, opening in Redwood CIty in 2012 wasn’t without surprises. “We opened, and right away construction (of the Box building) began. The streets surrounding us completely closed,” Michael remembers. “The city was great though - I’ve never seen a more supportive Chamber,” adds Fera.
The Hashemis relied largely on catering during the construction years, but one element of Arya can only be enjoyed in-house: live music and a belly dancer on Friday and Saturday nights. “We also have her perform on holidays. Except Valentine’s Day. We learned that it gets too many people in trouble,” Fera chuckles.
Just when I think one more bite of food couldn’t be possible, the bastani arrives. A rose water ice heaped with a scoop of Persian ice cream and sprinkeld with pistachios, my appetite miraculously recharges. My afternoon tour has come full circle - rose water to rose water, but the journey is far from over.