I've never claimed to be a restaurant critic, and this post is no exception. I mean, I definitely recommend you go where I did, and try what I had, but this was a culinary experience so personal that all I can guarantee is that your mileage may vary. After all, are you going to leap into your car and trek to Venice for something that tastes like painfully stubbed toes? Like an adorable granny walking around all gummy without her dentures? Like a harried young mom who's had it with her daughter who cries for no reason?
Because to me, the rosewater refresher at Sauce on Hampton in Venice tastes like all of these things. It's just three ingredients -- water, rosewater, and sugar -- but no other food or drink is as evocative to me as it is. To sit in a hip but tiny restaurant on a side street in Venice with a seemingly standard Cali-fresh menu, and have the waitress bring me a tall glass of sharbat-e-golab (she can call it rosewater refresher if she wants, but I know the truth), is, well, surreal. The first sip of the icy ade quite literally brought tears to my eyes.
In my 3 decades in this country, I've had countless meals at Persian restaurants. It's always pretty much the same: uninspired kabob-heavy menu, fake-fancy decor, cold lavash bread. But leave it to a restaurant that serves breakfast burritos and BLTs to really get to the heart of Persian eating: the simple things that we make at home. I dragged a couple friends to Sauce after discovering it via Food GPS. Turns out it's the restaurant of Sassan Rostamian, a family friend I've known since he was born, in partnership with his brother Soheil (you can call him Saul if you like, but I know the truth). Apparently Sassan did a stint as the lunch chef at Rustic Canyon, and has traipsed through various kitchens across Europe, before alighting on this tiny spot behind Main Street.
Sauce is not fake-fancy. It's intimate and inviting, with warm lighting and just a few lovely photos on the walls. The menu spans salads, various proteins on buns or in plates, and breakfast, which is served all day. There are light touches, like an 8-egg-white omelet with vegetables, and heartier fare, like Charleston char shiu pulled pork and a "super" grilled cheese sandwich with three cheeses and applewood bacon. Then, every once in a while you get a clever tip to Sassan's upbringing. The Shirazi frittata is by no means what you'd find in a humble home kitchen in Shiraz, but adding turmeric is a nice nod to the old country. Similarly, a dessert of quince baked with saffron and rosewater can't exactly be called a Persian dish, but certainly steals a few hints from the Persian flavor palette. And of course, I had to smile when I saw the Gilda's Garden sandwich: Gilda is Sassan and Soheil's mother.
A few years ago, before the frozen yogurt thing blew up, I ran into Soheil in line for the original West Hollywood Pinkberry. He noted how funny our parents would find this place, what with its taking that same everyday yogurt they've eaten for breakfast for decades and selling cups of it for five bucks a pop. Maybe this was the light bulb moment for the Rostamians. In Sauce, they've taken the simple, special recipes our parents have always loved (and have lovingly made for us), and brought them to the masses. And it works; sometimes, amazingly. The rosewater refresher is my very own Ratatouille. Not yours, and probably not anyone else's. But you should go there anyway -- I hear the BLT is delicious.
Sauce is at 259B Hampton Dr., Venice, CA 90291, one block west of Main Street, one block north of Rose Avenue.
My recipe for sharbat-e-golab is here.