.Anyone Else Remember the Pomegranate Chicken at Aram’s Cafe?

Remembrance of Purple Poultry Past

I’m kind of a food pleb. For my last meal, I would likely request a sandwich and a cup of tea. I would ask for it to be served with a novel. 

But this week marks the start of Sonoma County Restaurant Week (February 19-28), which puts me in mind of favorite restaurants, both past and present. Let’s start with the former this week and the present next. 

My love of cross-cultural cuisine began at the legendary-but-now-defunct Aram’s Cafe in Petaluma in the ’90s. My best friend and I were 15 and trying hard to appear 20. Come Saturday we would snag a table at Aram’s; an act terribly bohemian. After ordering braised vegetables and rice—the cheapest dish on the menu—we’d read Rob Brezsny’s horoscopes out loud and nod sagely. Then, in hushed tones, we’d weave elaborate stories about our fellow diners. The cafe was right in the hub of downtown and provided prime people-watching for us teens, whose only real excitement was born of our own imaginations.

I think what we gravitated to most was the ritual nature of it: always the same guy reading a newspaper out front, the same cast of characters parading by and the same waitress, who we idolized. One Saturday our waitress asked if we liked chicken. I told her that I loved chicken and that coincidentally my last name meant chicken in Polish. I pronounced it in the Polish way, feeling very cultured and at least 18 years old. She suggested I try the pomegranate chicken. “We’re kind of known for it,” she said. Well. If she wanted me to try the pomegranate chicken, by Jove I would splash out and try the chicken. “I’ll only charge you for the braised vegetables,” she said, winking at me before sashaying away to place our order. I nearly passed out from adoration.

I remember my first taste of that piquant pomegranate sauce—simultaneously sweet and tart—and the dark meat of the chicken falling off the bone. It was sublime. The pomegranate is a fruit ascribed manifold meaning: prosperity, fertility, marriage, immortality and so on. It is even thought to be the actual fruit from the tree of knowledge. How about that? Like Mediterranean cuisine, the pomegranate splits itself across cultures and is as abundant in symbology as it is in seeds. I’m sure I tasted all of that infused into the syrup as I ecstatically cleared my plate, and as my vegetarian friend tried hard not to convey her disgust that I was consuming a once-living creature’s flesh. Between that memorable dish and the flaky baklava Suzy slipped us as we left, is it any wonder I fell for Mediterranean cuisine?

I was gutted when Aram’s closed. But to my delight upon moving back here in my 30s, I discovered that the Speakeasy, only steps down from the former Aram’s, had acquired the recipe for their pomegranate chicken. All was not lost! It was still the same recipe all right. I got that divine fix of fowl each time my swing band played The Big Easy. Sadly, it’s no longer on the menu, so I’ll have to make do with the tangy memory hanging on the tip of my tongue. I’m actually salivating thinking about it, so I was perhaps being disingenuous about having a simple sandwich for my last meal. It’s pretty obvious what I should choose: pomegranate chicken with a side of braised vegetables and baklava for dessert.

For information on Sonoma County Restaurant Week, visit sonomacounty.com/restaurant-week.

Alia Curchack Beeton is a multidisciplinary performer who blogs at LucidLipsLifeLetters.com. Her essay collection, “The Miraculous Lives in the House of the Mundane,” is coming soon.

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