I’ve been to the Sahara restaurant in Richardson when the staff sits down at the end of the night, sharing a family meal – tea served in glasses and plates full of mouth-watering things – Persian pop music swirling around ‘them. And I realize, in that moment, that they might be the luckiest people in town.
The family who have owned the place for 17 years graciously take care of the fine details of a sophisticated kitchen that is notoriously hard to find – and even harder to find like this one. The menu is built around owner Bahman Derakhshan’s family recipes from Tehran, which are beautifully executed. And while he may seem humble on the outside, sandwiched between companies that will offer you loans, car insurance, a foot massage or personalized cakes, his traditional Persian recipes come from a long-established adept culture. date of sophisticated banquets: stuffing birds with rice and swirling gold in aromatic saffron-infused rice.
The tabbouleh is speckled deep emerald green with parsley. Dolmas are soft, give in and give more than they resist. There’s mint cucumber yogurt. The feta is musky and the Sahara potato salad – with Persian pickles and shredded chicken, creamy, garlicky and wonderful – has flavor. All are perfect expressions of Persian cuisine, to be assembled (prices are affordable) and shared. And there’s no doubting the eggplant dip, kashk-e bademjan, with caramelized onions and a tantalizing musky taste of whey. Once you’ve had it, the memory flies through your head for days.
At lunch, a buffet includes the mounds of fire-kissed skewers. But at dinner, the whole flame-grilled Cornish hen, which the menu calls chicken anari, and unlike anything I’ve seen in other Persian restaurants, is reason enough to come. Ask for it accompanied by the barberry saffron rice, which is spellbinding, each fine grain plump with fragrance. It has tiny barberries – tart lollipops – and streaks of golden saffron. In this dish delight, the grilled tomatoes gently crumble and the centerpiece, the poultry, is moist and nicely blackened. A sweet and tangy pomegranate molasses sauce hugs the flame-grilled meat. Like sour candies, caramelized onions add twang.
As in places such as the far more lavishly decorated Kasra, you can get typical Persian stews: dark and brooding gorhesabzi, with herbs, beef and beans; or gheimeh bademjan, the one with lentils, tomatoes and eggplant. They have tadik, crispy rice in the bottom of a pan, for those who know how to ask for it. But not on the evening I visited recently. Would it come out as the perfect crusted golden dome? Most likely. And always the sabzi: whole herbs give life to a meal.
Sip the homemade yogurt drink, the doogh, speckled with dried mint. It’s not over: there are homemade saffron ice cream studded with pistachios, humble, but good, like unconstrained hospitality. Sahara is also a store with a street cart and well-stocked shelves. You want to come back. What you can, tomorrow, for the lunch buffet.