Faz owner reflects on lifetime of food memories
By Lou Fancher
Meals that create and stir up meaningful memories and eating as a whole-environment experience are critical to restaurateur Faz Poursohi’s decades-long success.
Although he appreciates a well-known San Francisco restaurant critic’s review in 1984 that said there was “magic” at play after he opened his first dining establishment, Caffe Latte, there is nothing mysterious about the rustic dishes and astutely designed atmosphere at Faz Restaurants & Catering.
Filtered through the 67-year-old Danville resident’s native Iranian background, Mediterranean cuisine with complimentary American slow and farm-to-table influences inform the menus at locations in Pleasanton, Danville, Sunnyvale, San Jose and Oakland. A bakery opened in 2016 in downtown Danville and ownership since 2008 of San Francisco eatery MacArthur Park round out his mini empire.
A recipe is a formula, Poursohi says, but cooking is not. Instead, he insists that the work of a chef is artistic expression. Passion, emotion and personal history are communicated through food.
“There are fine lines that show — a grandparent’s way of cooking, a chef’s personality — in the way you season a dish or make sauces,” he said.
And cooking is live theater.
“With exhibition cooking like we have at Faz, it’s not like old times when the kitchen was somewhere in the back and no one knew what was happening.”
Poursohi brings to his restaurants a rich background. During childhood, his family’s farm provided organic resources: Citrus and fruits, herbs, vegetables, almonds, walnuts, olive oil, roses for rosewater and a watermill in which to grind the family’s whole wheat. Sent from Soh, Iran — he added the area’s name to “Pour” to form his last name — Poursohi studied mathematics in the country’s capital, Tehran.
Coming to Chicago in 1974 and earning a system engineering degree from the University of Illinois, he found his way into the restaurant industry. Working his way through clambakes, frog legs and veal scallopini at Great Gritzbe’s Flying Food Show, he was hired in San Francisco as an opening chef in 1981 at MacArthur Park. Branching out into ownership was motivated by sentimentalism and savvy.
“Like any chef, I use things I truly love, like citrus, organic yogurt, butter and milk because I had those things during fabulous growing-up experiences. When I began, I went to farms, got produce in boxes and put it on display. I had artichokes with roots so people could see how it grows. People noticed how beautiful it is.”
About location, he says, “When I choose a place to be there 15 to 25 years, I make sure the nature is there. Faz Danville — when I saw all those redwood trees, someone asked if I was sure I could make it there. I said, ‘With all the trees around, how can I not last?’ It is a beautiful setting.”
Beauty on a plate comes from simplicity that he says the Tri-Valley’s knowledgeable customers recognize.
“They’re concerned about the ingredients, farm-to-table programs, animals raised in cages. People are conscientious about health. In the ’70s in Chicago, we had a few bottles of olive oil if people asked for it. Now we buy it in 50-gallon containers.”
People here know about the antioxidants in pomegranates, the excellence of herbs grown in-house and locally sourced produce.
“No matter how good a store you visit, a cucumber is never as tender or a bean as bursting with flavor as what you grow at your home,” he says.
Poursohi welcomes the slow-food movement.
“Food is an experience, not just to satisfy your appetite,” he says. “Surroundings are foundational.”
The handmade pasta, brick oven pizza, grilled kebabs and main course dishes served at Faz are intentionally simple.
“I don’t want something with 1,000 things in it,” he says. “A dish with saffron, you have to be able to taste and identify the saffron. I love pasta with asparagus, saffron and a little cream.”
He says slowly braised lamb shank with fava beans and fresh dill basmati rice is the most popular menu item. Kebabs are “fabulous and increasingly popular.” Marinated in lemon juice, olive oil and onions and charred at high temperatures while metal skewers cook the meat and vegetables from within, they meet his top criteria for a healthy, balanced, simple dish.
Ultimately, the story circles back to family and place. Poursohi’s wife, Fariba Poursohi, is an accountant who designed the new bakery. With a son in his 30s who is successful in the electronics field, Poursohi says he opened the Danville bakery for his daughters, Bahar, 15, and Baaraan, 12.
“I have a duty to raise kids and to have a beautiful location nearby where they can work. I have been — I am — most fortunate.”