Observations on Food in the Bay Area
Examiner review - Guardian review - located at 2424 Van Ness Ave at Green St, Yaya is self-described as Mesopotamian cuisine, masterminded by Iraqi chef Yayha Salih. It's a reasonably intimate restaurant, with beautiful murals of old Middle Eastern cities adorning the walls, and small drop lights suspended over the tables, all placed behind a bar in front separating diners from the business of Van Ness outside. Yayha came out and chatted with us briefly at the end of our meal, at which point we complimented him thoroughly on the marvelous food (which I'll get into soon, fear not). He's very kind and friendly and reasonably chatty, and is apparently quite old-hat at the restaurant business, as this is the 5th one he's had in SF in something like 20 years or so.
Anyway, on to the meal!
First, the wine list. It's encorporated into every menu, as it's quite short and sweet. The most expensive bottle was a $38 red, the cheapest fell somewhere around $20, and there are only perhaps 15 bottles total. They're all quite thoroughly described, and represent a nice range of options while eschewing the big names for more interesting and less well-known selections. We had a bottle of 2000 Cab Sauv from Three Rivers Winery in Walla Walla, which was a dark, dense offering with deep fruit and a chocolatey finish. Very nice, and quite a buy for the price.
Mezza platter - a great selection of hummus, tabouli, and all sorts of other dips with pita that was fantastic and offered a great selection and variety. Quite possibly the best tabouli I've had, which is saying a lot since I'm normally not a huge fan. I can't really tell you why; it had something to do with the ratios of veggies. All I know is it was hard to stop eating. And one of the dips was quite smoky, which I really enjoy.
Ravioli - cute little mini-ravioli perhaps 1" square arrayed in a yogurt and walnut sauce. Fascinating as the ravioli are actually sweet, filled with a paste of dates, cinnamon and cardomom. Completely addictive, and a perfect appetizer as the hint of sweet amidst the plain yogurt excites the appetite for what's to come.
Fattoush salad - immensely fresh greens, largely composed of parsley with onions and tomatoes and other such that was nice and crisp, and unusual in that I'm not used to that much parsley in a dish.
The Main Courses:
Perdaplow - One of many dishes which arrived in the shape of a suprisingly large circular tower surrounded by a plate of sauce, this is a rich combination of shredded chicken, saffron rice, almonds, golden raisins and cardamom all in a perfectly flaky phyllo wrapping. The sauce is a surpisingly sweet raspberry whose acidity contrasted remarkably with the savory richness of the rest of the dish.
Sambosak - phyllo pockets stuffed with spinach, feta, and mushrooms, surrounded by a large collection of veggies. I only had a small taste, but this was fantastic, and the spicing overwhelmingly good.
Kuzi - Similar to the Perdaplow, but with lamb and some additional spices, and surrounded by a moat of concentrated pomegranate sauce. Wonderful, and the sauce wasn't as overwhelmingly sweet as the raspberry.
Also a dish that was more of a stew, with large chunks of lamb, potato, nuts, and spices in an absurdly savory cream-based sauce that was equally addictive.
Finally (of the items I had the opportunity to sample), a Salmon tower, covered in a green sauce, with foundations of rice, which was of such exquisite flavor, texture, and flawless cooking that there's no doubt in my mind what I'll be ordering immediately upon my next visit. It simply fell apart in the mouth and was indescribably wonderful.
We sampled a couple, one of which contained a water buffalo cheese which was rich, sweet and flavorful and wrapped in phyllo. The other was a different cheese breaded in shredded phyllo and served in date syrup with pistachios. Also good and sweet, but not as impressive as the first.
Absurdly good food, great service, and all at an amazingly reasonable price. We walked away having spent only around $35/person after tip.
Our waiter couldn't have been better - very friendly, chatty when it was clearly called for, helpful with the menu, and easy to find when we needed him. He also did a fantastic job of masking any frustration with us for staying so long past closing, which I felt rather bad about. So thank you! I'll absolutely be back.