Joon. 8045 Leesburg Pike, Vienna
Dress: Refined casual—I saw one diner in shorts, but he was an anomaly.
Best dishes: Kashk-e bademjan (eggplant spread); spinach borani (a yogurt-based dip); cucumber salad; Cornish-hen kebabs; duck fesenjoon; whole roast chicken; baklava.
Price range: Starters $12 to $17, larger plates $26 to $55, family-style platters $65 to $190 (for a lamb shoulder that feeds six to eight).
Bottom line: Masterful and elegant Persian cooking from one of the nation’s top authorities on the cuisine, and a terrific addition to the fine-dining scene.
Walking into the lobby of Joon, the chic new Persian dining room in Tysons, it’s hard to imagine the space’s former self: the pubby Chef Geoff’s. Half-price burger nights feel a world away from its replacement—glossy with wood lattices, brass accents, and an aqua-tiled bar.
More notable than Joon’s good looks is the talent behind it. Najmieh Batmanglij fled Iran during her native country’s revolution in the late ’70s, eventually settled in DC, and became a prolific cookbook writer celebrating the facets of Persian cuisine. In June, she launched this restaurant, her first in the US. Behind her in the kitchen is another name you might recognize: Chris Morgan, one of the founding chefs of the instantly popular Maydan, just off the 14th Street corridor.
At Joon, the grace notes start early. Before you get in the door, in fact—you can leave your car with the complimentary valet service out front. Once you are seated, you’re presented with a basket of warm, puffy lavash and a lovely little plate of accompaniments, including feta, goat cheese, and herb-laced butter. Pair that with a super-smooth vodka cocktail mellowed with clarified yogurt and rose-petal tea.
The menu is built for sharing, with dips such as thick yogurt swirled with tarragon, dill, and lots of garlic, or creamy spinach with saffron. (The latter eats like a more refined version of American spinach-and-artichoke dip.) Batmanglij is an artist when it comes to accessories: One of the tastiest salads I’ve had this summer is her arrangement of Persian cucumbers with pops of flavor from pistachios, pomegranate seeds, and feta.
There are some dishes that don’t typically show up on Persian menus around here. Kuku is a frittata-like disk that, at Joon, is loose and crumbly and packed with dill, parsley, and barberries. A cut of barramundi, the meaty white fish, is set atop a chunky tamarind-based sauce.
But in my experience, the best things have been more commonly seen staples: an elegant eggplant spread with dates and mint; a tangy, pomegranate-laced fesenjoon stew upgraded with duck instead of chicken; juicy, yogurt-marinated Cornish-hen kebabs; and a lavish whole roast chicken strewn with prunes and apricots.
The kitchen, as at any good Persian kitchen, has a way with rice. Buttery basmati crowned with tadigh—the coveted and crispy golden layer from the bottom of the pot—comes with several larger platters and stews. Still, it’s worth ordering an extra serving: the gorgeous version with sour cherries, rose water, and lime.
If there’s an area that needs work, it’s not in the kitchen. The waitstaff skews young. How is the Persian-style Negroni? “I’m not allowed to try the cocktails!” one said. And while most servers were eager and sweet, diners in need of guidance may find it lacking. A friend asked what to do with the plate of plain herbs, radishes, and walnuts that arrived as an appetizer. “Anything you want,” she was told.
And there are fewer sure things on the short dessert menu—I’d skip the sour-cherry sorbet and dry “love cake” and instead go for the not-too-sweet baklava, yet another Batmanglij masterwork.
This article appears in the September 2023 issue of Washingtonian.