It is shamefully reductive to boil an ethnic cuisine down to just one or two line items. Curry is just but of the many pungent spices found in traditional Indian food; the Japanese gourmand knows more than ramen and sushi; and they don’t even serve burritos in Mexico—at least not outside of restaurants catering to tipsy spring breakers.

Then there is Persian food—which, in the minds of many, can be summed up in two words: kebabs and rice. There’s nothing wrong with kebabs and rice, but surely there’s more to a centuries-old culture than grilled meat on a stick and fluffy, steamed grains. For proof, look no further than Stone Stew.

For years, the original Stone Stew has been tucked away in the back of a Saratoga Avenue grocery store called Mediterranean Food Market. It was, and still is, a hidden gem. Its spectacularly beautiful decor whisks diners away to a veranda in Iran. However, with the impending Garden City Shopping Center renovations—which have already caused the beloved Harry’s Hofbrau to close its doors—the original will soon shutter.

Fortunately, a recently opened downtown San Jose location keeps the Stone Stew rolling. The new restaurant is substantially smaller than the original, though it is nearly as beautiful. A stunning azure blue door greets guests as they arrive, and the same blue motif continues in the wooden benches and tables. The dining room’s walls are decorated with brick archways and lanterns, meant to mimic the experience of dining al fresco in a bazaar.

The menu does contain the ubiquitous kebabs and rice I touched on earlier, but if one delves a little deeper, the restaurant’s flavorful namesake emerges. Stews are quite popular in Iran, and one of the most basic versions is known as ābgoosht (literally “meat juice”); it consists of slow-simmered lamb, turmeric, dried limes and chickpeas. Stone Stew’s rendition is called vakil abad-mashad and is available with just the stew ($15.99) or with some housemade sides ($21.99). On a recent visit, I chose the option with sides, plus a vegetarian-friendly stew called shahsavar ghormeh sabzi ($14.99), and an eggplant-based kashke bademjan ($8.99) appetizer.

First out was the kashke. It was reminiscent of a creamy yet chunky baba ganoush, sans the smoky flavor. The creamy whey and fried mint really took this dish to another level by giving it a little crunch and some herbal undertones to combat the strong eggplant flavor. The complimentary warm barbari bread made an ideal edible utensil.

The stews arrived next, and my companion and I dug into the veggie ghormeh, which was served with a heaping mound of fluffy rice. The color of the dish was not exactly appealing, as the dark, leafy greens looked brownish-black after the many hours they’d spent simmering. However, after just one bite of this earthy, citrusy concoction, we knew why the ghormeh sabzi is considered by many to be the “national dish of Iran.” The veggie version is bolstered with whole mushrooms plus kidney beans that had a nice snap to them; they obviously didn’t come from a can.

Then came the ābgoosht, which required a bit of eater participation. Ᾱbgoosht—also known as “dizi,” which refers to the stoneware crock it’s served in—requires diners to strain the liquid out of the stew into an accompanying empty bowl and then mash the meat, beans and veggies into mush. The two are meant to be eaten separately, but we chose to recombine the two halves into the original bowl and consume it using more of the warm barbari bread. It was stunningly delicious in its simplicity. The lamb was melt-in-your-mouth tender, while the broth-and-veggie mix had a meaty, sweet and earthy complexity that was sublime.

Sides included a standard shiraz salad; pickled veggies that were a bit too vinegary for my taste; and a shallot yogurt called maast o moosir, which, when added to the ābgoosht, gave it a nice tartness to offset the sweet and savory.

Taking a deep dive into another culture’s menu will often yield unexpected and tasty results. Going beyond the norm in Persian food has introduced me to a nation’s culinary treasure and made me wonder what else I’ve been missing out on all these years.

Stone Stew 2
205 N 4th St, San Jose