November 23, 2013 by LJK
Lincolnites, LNK Eats readers, you’ve been holding out on me. I’m embarrassed to admit that the only reason I knew about this restaurant is because of one or two commenters on a throw-away Friday-afternoon Yglesias post on Slate last week about Nebraska’s bid to become a “foodie” travel destination. Apparently the owner, Narges Montazer, has been a fixture at the farmers’ market, serving baklava, kebabs, and the like, but I usually just zero in on vegetables—raw materials—when I’m at the market so Daffodil was not on my radar. This from a person who made my family drive all over Kansas City (both states’) to find a certain Persian restaurant. We could’ve just gone down to Old Cheney and 56th Street, to what is probably my new favorite Lincoln restaurant.
The gyros seem to be what a lot of people come for, and the ones being served while we were there indeed looked spectacular, but I was most interested in the contents of those chafing dishes. My daughter and I were given little plates onto which Mrs. Montazer carefully scooped samples of many of the dishes so we’d know what we wanted to order in a larger quantity. Ordering, I’m afraid, turned out to be a task that would’ve been easier had we not gotten to taste everything first.
We were not, however, offered a sample of what was quickly waved off and described as “sour chicken,” so of course I ordered that, along with some fesenjen (pomegranate walnut chicken) and dill and lima bean rice. My daughter wanted more of everything she’d tasted but finally decided on the dense, finely textured meatballs in a mild, sweet tomato sauce with sliced almonds and some kind of dried berries (maybe barberries?), “mashed potatoes”—more like a thin and chunky potato soup, and much more interesting than the typical American whipped-smooth version—and saffron rice.
The sour chicken, which was in a ground walnut–based sauce like the fesenjen and is on the right in the picture above, was the standout. Sour fresh berries (raspberries and something that looked an awful lot like chokecherries?) dotted the surface—and Mrs. Montazer was meticulous in making sure our plates had the correct proportion of sauce, meat, and nut and fruit garnishes. Finely chopped greens flecked the sauce. She said the sourness comes from a special kind of sour pomegranate she orders from California (I’m guessing this pomegranate molasses?). I think she assumed I wouldn’t like it, but of course she couldn’t know that I’m an absolute freak for sour. It was wonderful; ask for a taste if you see it when you go.
Okay, I’ve been a fan of fesenjen for years, and have mostly just made it at home (it’s featured on the cover of this book, if you need a good slow-cooker recipe for it). My mom’s friend in Virginia was from Iran, and fifteen or so years ago they wrote a small cookbook of Persian recipes together (unpublished); the fesenjen was always my favorite. It’s sweet and sour, with ground walnuts that release their oil into the sauce, which emulsifies and becomes just a little creamy as it simmers and thickens. It’s simple, and in my opinion pretty difficult to mess up. Daffodil’s version was excellent, with plenty of fresh pomegranate arils for crunch and fresh bursts of tartness. It was like someone had gone to the trouble of making one of my favorite recipes all for me!
Before we decided on our final order, we tasted the haleem, cracked wheat cooked soft in a rich turkey broth (roasted turkey drumsticks were also on offer) and topped with generous quantities of cinnamon and powdered sugar. Imagine a sweet and cinnamony jook or congee. The next time I’m sick, this is the comfort food I’ll request. We also tried a bright orange stew called “Asiago chicken,” which tasted like something an evil genius might have dreamed up in a lab, maybe in the Doritos wing of the Frito-Lay plant. I have no doubt it contained nothing but real ingredients; it’s just that they were combined in such a nefarious way that I’m sure if you ate a half a plate of it you’d be hooked for life. Salty, cheesy, umami-y . . . it was kind of insane. Tonight, our host said, there would be lamb shanks on the menu, and salmon. She was expecting a crowd after the game, and I think it’d be a fun place to be on a ridiculously cold Saturday evening (though it doesn’t appear to have a liquor license of any sort, steaming saffron tea would be nice). I’m already thinking about which of the many phyllo-based sweets I want to try . . . maybe tomorrow. Look at my plate up there; I ate all of that, plus a pretty decent meal’s worth of samples, and a meatball from my daughter’s plate; today dessert was not in the cards.
Daffodil is at 5740 Old Cheney Road, just east of 56th Street. (Here’s the ongoing map of all the locations I mention on this blog.) It’s open 11 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, and 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sunday. Closed Monday. Credit cards are accepted. There are a half-dozen or so tables in the cozy dining room. Please go there soon. Also, I don’t think I can link to it properly because I’ve let my LJS subscription lapse, but you might be interested in Katie Dolan’s September 18, 2012, article about the business in Ground Zero, “A Home for Persian Cooking.”