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Jannah – Iraqi cuisine

28 March, 2011

On Sunday, March 27, the League assaulted Jannah in the Nopa neighborhood. Formerly Yaya Cuisine in Burlingame (thus the confusing domain name), Jannah serves Iraqi specialties and unique takes on dishes from around the middle east.

First up are their “middle eastern pizzas”:

Safeehat Falafel - Garbanzo crust pizza topped with pesto, eggplant, roasted red pepper, green & red onions, shiitake mushrooms, tomato, feta, and goat cheese.

Safeehat Urook - organic cracked wheat pizza topped with tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese, Bastirma (Middle eastern sausage), mushroom, onion, roasted red pepper, and tomato

The falafel pizza was great and unique, but I don’t think many people were thrilled by the Urook pizza – it didn’t taste particularly middle-eastern.

Kelecha - ravioli stuffed with dates, cardamom, cinnamon and topped with yogurt, walnuts and parmesan cheese

The Kelecha were very unique: raviolis with sweet date paste filling. I’ve never seen anything like them, and they were the only item featured as both an appetizer and dessert. Everyone loved them so much we ordered them at both those times.

Japanese eggplant with pomegranate molasses and some salad

This was a total surprise on the menu, and it was fabulous! The eggplant itself has the texture of a good japanese eggplant dengaku, but the sauce is just an amazing elaboration on pomegranate molasses. Definitely recommended.

Badengan Parmesan - Marinated eggplant with fresh herbs and topped with roasted red pepper and parmesan cheese

Unfortunately I only got a picture after this was almost gone. I thought this might be more like the Persian Bademjan pureed eggplant dip I’ve had before, but it was not pureed at all. It was good and interesting but not a favorite.

clockwise from orange: Zuzu Ghanoush (carrot/tamarind), Mama Ghanoush (eggplant/pomegranate), and Muhamara (roasted red pepper and walnuts). The platter of 3 dips was served with assorted pickles and tabouleh.

They had 6 different dips, including muhamara, which I’ve never seen in a San Francisco restaurant before. Unfortunately, the muhamara didn’t quite live up to my expectations (I think it should have had pomegranate molasses in it), but these dips were all quite tasty in their own right.

Yaya’s grape leaves

On our server’s recommendation, we tried the grape leaves appetizer. I have to agree that these are in the top 5% of grape leaves I’ve tried.

After these appetizers, we started ordering entrees, starting with 2 phyllo-wrapped items:

Sambosak - Spinach, sumac, shiitake mushroom, and feta cheese rolled in phyllo. Served with a side of vegetables and puree of roasted red bell pepper, walnuts and cumin.

Kuzi - Phyllo dough filled with shredded lamb, rice, almonds, golden raisins, allspice, cinnamon, and ginger. Served with pomegranate-rosemary sauce.

The Kuzi was our server’s favorite dish in the menu, and I think most of us agreed with him. It was outstanding! The sambosak was wonderful also, but not quite as inspiring.

Then we had 2 “maklooba” dishes:

Scallop Maklooba - (upside down) layer of cooked scallops in curry, grilled veggies (eggplant, zucchini, and cauliflower), rice, and sabzze sauce (puree of fresh herbs, spinach and tomato)

Vegeterian Maklooba - (upside down) layers of cooked swiss chard with shiitake mushroom and sumac, grilled veggies (eggplant, zucchini, cauliflower), and rice, surrounded with sabzze sauce (puree of fresh herbs, spinach, and tomato)

The sabzze sauce that led the flavors in these dishes was very unique to my palate. Perhaps it might be a little more familiar to Persians, but while these weren’t my favorite dishes, I would strongly recommend trying one.

Fesenjoon - Marinated and cooked chicken with pomegranate molasses and walnuts. Served with rice and fresh vegetables.

The Fesenjoon was another dish that some of us had preconceived notions of from knowledge of Persian cuisine. Again, the dish was completely unlike what we expected – in Persian cuisine, it’s a stew! This was still delicious, though, but perhaps a little one-dimensional compared to some of the other dishes.

Lamb shank topped with mensef - caramelized onion with kashek (dehydrated yogurt), potato, and garbanzo bean.

They have 4 different sauce/topping combinations for their lamb shanks, and I was very excited to try the mensef in case it was similar to the Jordanian Mansaf/Beriani I’ve had at restaurants like Dish Dash and Fattoush. It was indeed somewhat similar, and satisfied my craving, but I don’t think it’s quite the same. On the other hand, the lamb shank itself was probably higher quality than the meats in the other dishes I’m comparing this to.

The dessert menu looked exciting in that it took similarly unique twists on several middle eastern staples and threw in a couple totally new dishes. So we tried one of everything! Unpictured is the repeat order of the above Kelecha.

Baklava in Muhalabia (rice pudding)

The Muhalabia that the baklava came in was a fabulous complement to the standard sticky sweetness of baklava. I was impressed.

Kenafa - hot shredded phyllo dough stuffed with middle eastern cheese, topped with pistachio and date syrup

I’ve never seen a Kenafa be stuffed with cheese before, and it turned out to be almost everyone’s favorite dessert. You need to try this.

Kahi - hot phyllo dough stuffed with kemar (whipping cream with cardamom), surrounded with rasperry puree

This was most people’s 2nd favorite dessert, and quite unlike any other middle eastern dessert I’ve tried.

Layallie Baghdad - semolina cooked in milk and rose water, covered in kushta (cream), chocolate, and pistachios

This was very unique, but most people thought it was a bit too starchy and fairly heavy on the rose water. It was the only dish of the night we didn’t finish, but I was still happy to have tried it.

shiny happy people - (clockwise from left) Nick, Chris, Meryl, Joe, Sean, William, Tim, Jim, and Isa

In summary, here is my graded breakdown.

Must-haves:

  • Kelecha
  • Japanese eggplant
  • Kuzi
  • Kenafa

Very worthwhile:

  • Safeehat Falafel
  • Yaya’s Grape Leaves
  • Sambosak
  • Vegeterian Maklooba
  • Fesenjoon
  • Lamb shank with Mensef
  • Kahi
  • Baklava

If you’re in the mood:

  • Badengan Parmesan
  • Appetizer Dips
  • Scallop Maklooba

Avoid:

  • Safeehat Urook
  • Layallie Baghdad

See you next time!

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