Amid the rapid influx of people to Loudoun County and the clearing of tracts for even more people, there are some welcome indications of permanence -- even if you sometimes have to spend a little energy looking for them.
Take, for instance, Darya Kabob. There it is, a restaurant specializing in Persian-style kabobs, wedged in the Sterling Town Center Plaza off Route 7 between Jeff Smith Karate and Game Stop.
Darya Kabob has been around for about five years, time enough for other businesses, including restaurants, to come and go. But it has remained and was plenty busy the night we were there.
The restaurant is the handiwork of Khosro and Shahla Ghassemi. As Shahla tells it, Khosro, who had been working in such places as body shops, announced one day that he was tired of working for other people and thought they should do something on their own.
So they opened, Shahla said, the first ethnic kabob place in Loudoun. It was their first restaurant experience, which seems like a considerable leap. The evolved division of labor now has Khosro taking care of the shopping and handling things out front, while Shahla, drawing on the recipes learned from her mother and grandmother in Iran, cooks the traditional Persian dishes.
"These are homemade dishes, and we want a place that feels like home," she said.
The names of the dishes will not be familiar to some (kabob kubideh, for instance), but there are English descriptions on the menu.
Perhaps a dozen marble-top tables are located in this spare and utilitarian restaurant, and they can easily be moved together or separated to accommodate parties of various sizes. There are traditional paintings and tapestries on the walls. A lively discussion began in our group after one member thought the tapestries to be "mildly scandalous."
You can make up your own mind about that. Or, if making a judgment proves too tiring, you can watch the widescreen TV propped up on top of the drink cooler.
Two items on the beverage menu caught our eye (no booze here, by the way): homemade dough and bottled dough. No one in our party had a clue about dough, so we got one of each.
This, it turns out, is a yogurt soda. It is also, shall we say, an acquired taste. Our initial reaction was that it was salty, carbonated and somewhat sour. One in our party, who messed around some with chemistry in school, said something about carbonation producing carbonic acid, which, like many acids, is sour. It apparently has lots of running room in yogurt soda, whereas in other carbonated soft drinks, the carbonic acid is overwhelmed by sugar or a sugar substitute.
That sound right to you? The possibility exists that this person was just winging it, but it had the ring of authority about it. Or it could be that the rest of us had forgotten any chemistry lessons we might have taken.
The yogurt soda reaction did lead to some rethinking, however. One in the party had just remarked that "I'll eat anything," when he noticed other faces puckering from the dough. "Well, maybe not anything," he said.
But back to the menu. Food is ordered at the counter in the back, where they do a brisk carryout business, and there are helpful pictures of various dishes mounted on the back wall. The tableware is plastic.
The clay oven where they do the magic for the homemade pita bread is also back there. If there is one strong recommendation, it is that you try the bread. Often made for individual orders, it is warm and a nice combination of crisp outside and soft inside. It found universal acclaim in our party.
There are no appetizers listed, so we went right to the entrees. There are specials listed for each day of the week, along with a general daily special. There are nine selections under traditional kabob entrees, a couple of lunch specials, a couple of salads, a half-dozen side orders and two listings under kid's meal.
We browsed for a bit, then opted for zereshk polo, the general special featuring chicken kabobs. Like other offerings, this was an adventure for us. Here's the menu description: "Barberry and cranberry sauteed with safran [we think that means saffron] and sugar in steamed rice with tangerine peel and chunks of chicken kabob."
All of that was true, and this quickly became a favorite. We were a bit unsure as to what barberries looked like (we still are, truth be told), but we thought them the smaller of the two berries mixed in the rice. Regardless, the cranberries brought a tartness, the barberries a zing, the tangerine peel a balance, and the chicken a moist tenderness.
Thumbs up all around.
We also chose the special of the day, baghali polo. The centerpiece was a lamb shank that was so tender it more or less fell off the bone. Rice again, this time basmati, set off by a dollop of saffron-colored rice on top. Dill was mixed in with the rice, which was also dimpled with baby lima beans. We thought this an unusual combination but a nice commingling of textures and tastes.
We did not ignore the side dishes; in fact, we ordered most of them. There was a fair amount of cucumber and yogurt here; one was a cool and refreshing combination of both, another was shallots in yogurt. A third side dish mixed cucumbers with tomatoes, onion and parsley in a lemon-juice sauce that turned out to be mostly lemon juice.
Nor did we bypass the side dish called torshi, which was diced vegetables dressed in vinegar and spices. They aren't kidding about the vinegar; you can't miss it. And finally, hummus -- a good hummus, if not a great hummus.
But the entree menu still beckoned, so we choose the Cornish hen, which the restaurant marinated in a selection of seasonings. This lost a little to the chicken on the moist scale but was by no means tough. There were some bones to get around, but deboning a Cornish hen would be a pretty devilish job.
We contemplated the veggie kabob but opted instead for a combination dish featuring beef and chicken. The beef was ground chuck, which was quite thoroughly cooked, and chargrilled chicken kabobs. Again, the chicken was moist and tender. The meat was arranged on either side of a bed of white rice with a topping of saffron rice down the middle of the plate. Half a grilled tomato was added as garnish but did not survive the marauding diners in the party.
Dessert is in a display case on the counter. Chocolate cookies and baklava were the available selections. They do not make their own baklava at Darya Kabob but get it from a place in Tyson's Corner. We thought it a bit doughy as opposed to the light and flaky crust one associates with baklava.
There is also an ice cream cooler toward the front of the room, but we thought the featured Klondike Choco Taco bar was somewhat incongruent with the idea of traditional Persian desserts.
Darya Kabob 21800 Town Center Plaza, Sterling, 703 404-4443. Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday; closed Sunday. Entrees, $3.99 to $13.99; side orders, $1.50 to $2.99; salads, $4.25 to $7.95; lunch special, $3.99 to $4.69.