Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Italian, by way of Iran, in Westwood: Cafe Glacé Persian Pizza

Even though I've lived among Iranians all my life here in Los Angeles, my trip to Turkey made me think about my relationship to my culture in a whole host of new ways.  Neighboring Iran, it's the closest I've ever been to my native country since I was a baby, and there were so many things that felt familiar, so many experiences that pulled me back to tiny moments from my childhood, which for the first time had context.  Meanwhile, being around plenty of Iranians who were actually there from Iran, who didn't have have 'hyphen American' tacked on to their nationality, gave me a taste of how out-of-touch I am with Iran today.  Then, two amazing conversations I had there in Persian, one with an Afghan who left his country for Turkey as a child, and one with a young Iranian guy who'd only been in Turkey a few months, had such a strong effect on me that I'm still trying to process exactly why, especially considering my own relationship with Iranian-Americans here at home has always been a little tenuous.  All the while though, I wasn't in Iran, I was in Turkey, and as comfortable and familiar as it felt, there was the constant reminder that I was very much a foreigner in this land: Turkish is a language with which I'm completely unfamiliar.

Amid all this ruminating and cultural confusion, a trip to a restaurant in Westwood's 'Tehrangeles' quarter called Cafe Glacé -- a phrase that fills me with nostalgia -- that serves something called Persian pizza -- a concept I didn't know existed -- fits right in.  I've waxed sentimental about Persian cuisine (all over this blog, for one thing) for ages. But what I know of it is what came with us to the United States over 30 years ago: the food cooked at home, the traditional dishes of rice, heady spices, tangy fruits, and grilled meats passed down from mother to daughter in humble family kitchens.

Friends, there is a major gap in my knowledge of Iranian cuisine.  I'm behind the times.  How could I possibly know about modern Iranian street food?  Evidently, pizza places are a common occurence in cities like Tehran and especially Shiraz.  And, like in the United States, pizza in Iran has taken on an identity of its own, a far cry from its Italian roots.  (Side note: why does everyone appropriate -- and bastardize -- Italian food?  I had "spaghetti" in Tokyo that was dressed with corn, octopus, cream sauce, and seaweed.  All in one dish.  Wha?  Side note to side note:  The fork-twirling skills of the clientele at said Tokyo spaghetti joint, accustomed to eating with chopsticks, put me to serious shame.)

The pizza I tried tonight had no sauce.  It was personal-sized, on a thin but soft and substantial crust.  The toppings, pretty much chosen for me, included chopped green peppers and tomatoes, thin slices of mushroom, and meat in the form of chopped kalbas and discs of saucise (baloney and hot dog, respectively), and were packed in to the very edges of the crust.  All of this was topped with a layer of cheese, then browned fast and at high temperature, resulting in vegetables that stayed bright and just barely cooked under a puffy layer of crisp browned cheese.  Evidently the Tehran cool kids squirt these guys generously with ketchup and ranch dressing -- bizarre to me, but I must admit, it works.  Persian pizza is not the high cuisine of the shahs, but you know what?  It's really satisfying.
What else are the cool kids in Iran eating these days?  Well, if the menu at Cafe Glacé is any indication, they enjoy chips o paneer, potato chips topped with melted mozzarella cheese (and more ketchup and ranch, obvs); and carrot juice floats, two scoops of vanilla ice cream in a tall glass with carrot juice poured over.  Freshly squeezed juices, along with a handful of French-bread sandwiches -- hot dog, salad olivieh (a mayonnaise-laden salad of chicken, potatoes, and pickles), and kotlet (fried patties of ground meat and potatoes) -- round out the list, along with the namesake dessert: a float of ice cream in a tall glass of milky iced coffee, walking the line between milkshake and affogato.
I really wanted to try the bizarro carrot juice and ice cream combo, but the heavy entrees left room only for tea and a shared zoulbia.  We sipped and took in the scene all around us:  tables of young Iranians -- some with veils, some with dreads -- collectively burning their tongues on sizzling-hot cheese and commenting cattily on the cosmetic surgery choices of every hot new JLo-esque Persian pop starlet crooning in highly produced music videos on the flatscreen behind the counter.  As soon as I got into my car, I put on my favorite Persian pop, too.  Shahram Shabpareh's Diyar, Persian pop circa 1980.

Cafe Glacé is at 1441 Westwood Blvd., about 5 blocks south of Wilshire.
The Los Angeles Times writes about Cafe Glacé


  1. Absolutely fascinating, though I can really do without the baloney/hot dog.

    speaking of Persian, have you tried Kabab Mahaleh on the Kosher Corridor? Fantastic stuff, just really outstanding big fire, simple ingredients cooking. Not sure if the cool kids like that, but it seems 3 generations of Persian fambams all congregate there.

  2. don't knock the hot dog. it's pretty yummy (we also have a similarly not-at-all persian-seeming, but actually quite persian delicacy of eggs over fried hot dogs. pretty delicious, dude.)

    and mahaleh looks amazing -- looks like they are doing it right. i better get there before they figure out that $5.99 for a kosher kabob plate is in no way sustainable. "big fire, simple ingredients cooking" -- i should make this my mantra.