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Make Food Not War

While on Lower Haight last night I stumbled upon a new restaurant called Baghdad Nights (682 Haight St., 415-861-6111) with elaborate, colorful signage and a flyer advertising belly dancing in the window. Turns out it’s a new (and as far as I can tell, SF’s only) Iraqi restaurant, staffed by Iraqi-Americans—each last one of them super-friendly and attentive.

The lowlit, wooden interior is more inviting than the signage outside indicates, and the menu will look familiar to anyone who likes Greek food, especially the appetizers: hummus, tabouli, baba ganoush. There are some intriguing additions though. One is kubba, a kind of Iraqi pot sticker made with rice flour and stuffed with either meat or veggies. Ours was full of spinach and mushrooms and the dough was pillowy soft.


The "upside down" entree at Baghdad Nights.

The entrees focus on lamb—lamb kebab, ground lamb kebab, minced lamb in eggplant, lamb shank cooked in okra or spinach, boneless shank in aged yogurt sauce. Personally, I think the Middle East is the only place that does lamb right, balancing its richness by either charring it or adding the acid of tomatoes, lime, yogurt. And I am a woman with two Persian cookbooks in her kitchen, so I feel qualified to comment on the subject.

Our entrée was the nightly special, not on the menu. I can’t remember its name but it means “upside down” in Iraqi, and that’s what it was: a mold of rice, tomatoes, eggplant, mushrooms and almonds amid a float of tangy spiced yogurt sauce. Delicious, and the warm flatbread sopped up the remaining sauce nicely.

I have a pet theory that the more cultures indulge in each other’s great cuisines, the less apt they are to go to war. Just think—when’s the last time we invaded Italy or France? If every major US city was littered with Iraqi restaurants, the Middle East picture might look differently today. This humble little place on Lower Haight is a nice start.