Food: Iranians in the know know Persepolis
By John Kessler
The Atlanta Journal and Constitution
October 6, 2000
Think of rice. Great rice. Rice that's exactly as it should be.
If you're Japanese, you'll probably see it patted into a bowl, plump
and pearly, stuck together without being sticky. If you're Italian, you
may imagine a wet spoonful of risotto.
But if you're Persian, you expect a miracle --- an unreal mound of snowy
fluff where each grain is long and slender and separate. And if you're
Persian, you know where to find it.
Such great rice flows from the kitchen at Persepolis, a newcomer to
Roswell Road's cluster of Persian restaurants. Great heaps of it sidle
up to char- edged beef kebabs and soak up the seasoned juices of stewed
white peas and eggplant. Elegant basmati grains may arrive studded with
candied orange peel and almonds in one dish, fried to a crunch in saffron
butter in another.
This food has evidently captured the fancy of Atlanta's Iranian ex-pat
community. Go at lunch, when there's a leviathan buffet, and everywhere
you'll see people tapping shoulders and greeting each other in a warm rush
of Farsi. You'll also see a few non-Iranians stuffing their faces, thrilled
to have found such a gem.
Owner Ali Mesghali, whose first attempt as a restaurateur was with the
underpopulated Shamshiri, has a winner this time. This cheerful young man,
who looks like a swarthy Matthew Broderick, knows how to blend a surefire
cocktail of skillful cooking and good value with just enough warmth and
formality in the front of the house. He knows how to deliver a dining experience.
While the name of the restaurant refers to the ancient capital of the
Persian Empire, in the south of modern-day Iran, the cooking here is the
same Teherani style you will find at just about any other Persian restaurant
in the country. The menu encompasses kebabs, khoreshts (long-simmered stews)
and mixed rice dishes, few of which will offend the sensibilities of even
the most ethno-phobic palates. Vegetarian selections are plentiful.
Every meal begins with a freshly baked flatbread called taftoun ---
a crackly, warm welcome mat that you fold with butter and fresh herbs (basil
and mint here) and munch with radishes. Persians order feta cheese, but
the dry, salty feta served here is a skippable snooze.
As at every Persian restaurant, the cold salads and dips that are typical
side dishes to a meal play the role of appetizers for Westerners. And here's
where the real fun begins. Get a combo platter and a second loaf of taftoun,
and scoop away. Go right to the good kashk-o-bademjan, a warm eggplant
mash mellowed with golden onions, soured with yogurt whey and given dimension
with fried mint.
There are two yogurt dips: musto-mooseer combines cool yogurt with the
warm presence of sun-dried shallots, while musto-khiar is the more familiar
combination of yogurt and cucumber. The dolmeh (stuffed grape leaves) are
like none you've had, with their sweet-and-sour flavor wine vinegar and
pomegranate syrup. Only the overmarinated shirazi salad --- a dice of tomatoes,
cucumbers and onions --- comes up short. It doesn't have the citrusy sparkle
Yet the kitchen does a particularly fine job with the khoreshts, or
stews. Ghormeh sabzi, which can be a watery sludge in other Persian restaurants,
is lush and elemental here. Dice-size cubes of melting beef and shiny-creamy
kidney beans arrive in a green blanket of herb sauce, the pungencies of
parsley and fenugreek whittled down to their sweet essences. Khoresht bademjan
features beef, strips of eggplant and Persian white peas in a tangy tomato
gravy that seems very happy to sink into the vast, downy bed of rice on
Among the mixed rice dishes, shireen polo has all the prestige. This
special holiday concoction includes strips of candied orange peel, fried
almonds and dried barberries (like tiny cranberries), as well as pieces
of chicken buried in its depths. I like it, but have to admit I find more
succor in the simpler adas polo, containing lentils and raisins.
Most Persians are lured by the kebabs, which are good. Chelo kebab-e-
kubideh is Iran's answer to kofte --- ground beef flavored with onion and
spice, then mounded in a rippling pattern over a wide metal skewer. Chelo
kebab-e-barg brings flat pieces of rare tenderloin that are long marinated
and lightly charred. Both come with traditional garnishes of rice, a grilled
tomato and a shaker of lemony sumac powder. If you're hard-core, ask for
a raw egg yolk to stir into the rice.
And if you consider no ethnic dining adventure complete without one
sensation that goes beyond your experience, end with a big bowl of faloudeh,
frozen noodles made from cornstarch and rosewater over which you squeeze
a cut lime.
It's dessert. Wormy squiggles that melt on your tongue with that seesawing
balance of sweet and sour --- the leitmotif of every Persian meal --- finally
tipping to the sweet side to signal the end.