Some of the things I love about traveling are seeing things that I have never before, being immersed in a foreign language, and tasting dishes I have never tried before. One of the best introductions to a new culture before actually going there is going to a local restaurant which a native from that culture recommends.

Darya was recommended by a Persian friend and fellow foodie as the place she goes whenever she doesn’t feel like cooking, but wants authentic Persian food. Before going to Darya, the only Persian food I had ever eaten was always at the home of friends, so not only was it authentic, by made with care and the freshest of ingredients.

Walking into to beautiful ornate restaurant was a shocking change from the bland nondescript exterior located next to a Smart & Final on busy Santa Monica Blvd. in Santa Monica. A beautiful crystal chandelier hangs in the center of the room and the walls have delicate gold leafed accents showcasing a painting of the sea (Darya means Sea and is the name of one of the daughters of the owners). Even during lunch in the middle of the week, the room was packed with a variety of people from families, to office workers, and dressed up ladies who lunch. The predominant language was Persian, always a good sign in a Persian restaurant.

I was greeted with a plate of raw quartered onions with butter and flat bread while I perused the menu.

There were so many options that I had trouble deciding, especially since I did not know the names of the dishes my Persian friends made for me, so I had no idea what I had eaten before at their home. I chose the skewers of Filet Mignon ($12.99) with salad and a substitution of Lubio Polo ($1 more) for the regular rice.

The salad was dressed simply with lemon juice and oil, adding a fresh zest to the meat, rice and vegetables on the plate. I asked for my steak very rare and was very pleasantly surprised that it was served as I ordered it, nice and red in the center, and with 8 oz of Filet Mignon on one skewer, this is a great value for the money. There was a container of a condiment on the table for the meat called Sumac, which my waiter explained was made from poison ivy and poison oak! I just did not find it necessary to add anything to my juicy tender meat, but the taste is a bit smoky and fragrant, so you might want to try it. The skewered vegetables of green and yellow peppers, tomatoes, and onions were all slightly crunchy, but cooked through, a perfect balance of flavors. The Lubio Polo, a dish of Basmati rice, green beans, tomato sauce and diced filet, was a complex symphony of flavors that I could easily become addicted to eating; I literally could not stop taking a bite every other forkful.

The fresh flowers on the table were my dessert since I was too full to even finish my plate, much less eat anything else.

Darya Restaurant Santa Monica on Urbanspoon