We love cooking at home. But one recent evening after an unusually tiring week, we didn’t have the energy to whip up dinner. So, we decided to follow through on a restaurant recommendation from our dental hygienist: family-owned Raffi’s Place in Glendale, California, which serves Persian and Middle Eastern cuisine.
We usually have dinner late, but this time we arrived at Raffi’s Place early, around 5:00 p.m. before the busy dinner crowd. On this warm summer evening, we were seated at a table for two in the middle of a spacious outdoor patio. The serene setting of tall shady trees and sunlight cascading over awnings and umbrellas enchanted both of us.
A few other diners were there, including a man sitting solo at the table positioned closely next to ours. We proceeded to look over the impressive menu but were overwhelmed by so many wonderful selections. We had been introduced to Persian food earlier in the year when our Persian friend invited us to dinner and made exquisite lamb shank and Persian rice.
Suddenly, Louie looked up from his menu and glanced over to the nearby gentleman.
“Excuse me,” he said nonchalantly, and with what my late mother always called his Mona Lisa smile, “What do you like to order? It’s our first time here…” (There was no doubt he could hear everything we were saying as we discussed one dish after another.)
And when it comes to enjoying a meal, there is something I believe wholeheartedly: It’s not just the food that creates a memorable experience. It’s also the company. This was one of those nights. It lasted three hours.
This patient man described many of the dishes. But I was anxious to savor lamb shank all over again. Louie settled on traditional beef kebab, saffron rice and roasted tomato and peppers. When my dinner arrived, a plate filled with beautiful Persian rice made with baby lima beans and fresh dill was set in front of me.
“Am I supposed to eat all of this?” I asked our new friend incredulously. He smiled and said that it is common to scoop up the rice with pieces of the soft flatbread that was also on the table. “Just eat what you would like.”
Then my lamb shank arrived. Oh my. It looked so pristine in an oblong-shaped bowl bathing in its own divine broth. It was exquisite – tender, delicate and full of flavor. Along with the outrageously flavorful basmati rice, I was in heaven.
Over wine and our fabulous meals, we continued sharing lovely conversation with, I shall call him, our Persian culture mentor. And then some. One topic led to another and one hour led to the next. In the most extraordinary way, we felt transported.
Before we knew it, the huge patio was packed with families, couples, and groups celebrating something special. And it was a weeknight!
We finally finished our feast, but it was not the end. Our new friend surprised us with a Persian rice dessert. “It is made with pistachio,” he told us. He also ordered one for himself. The delicate smooth-as-silk mound was an elevated cross between rice pudding and gelato that sent us straight to heaven.
On this night, the saying, “Time flies when you’re having fun,” earned a new meaning.
But it still didn’t end. Our server informed us that the gentleman picked up our tab.
We were moved by this serendipitous moment and meeting such a lovely human being. We couldn’t stop talking about this magical evening the rest of the night and days later.
Things like this just don’t happen.