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Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Dinner at Persepolis: fun but not all that

Bad picture of rice with sour cherries over steamed chicken

Bad picture of tahdig
Last weekend marked another foray into Atlanta's Persian dining scene. I've been to Sufi's on Peachtree three or four times and Rumi's Kitchen in Sandy Springs twice. I'd happily eat at either, but Sufi's does not require a safari to the world of unrelenting whiteness on the other, scary side of the Perimeter.

Embarrassingly, until last Friday I had not visited Persepolis, also in Sandy Springs and probably the oldest Persian restaurant in the Atlanta area. Persepolis is located on Roswell Road near Abernathy in a nondescript building. I find the area incredibly disorienting. My high-school bus turned left off Abernathy onto Roswell Road back in the pioneer days, and I do not remember anything but trees being there. The entire area looks like what happens when zoning is abandoned.

So, seven of us visited Persepolis and, even though I can't remember any buildings being in that location, the restaurant still manages to look very retro. It has a large, comfortable dining room, with some big circular tables that are impractical for typically much smaller restaurants these days. There are columns everywhere. Hello, Shiraz.

Mainly, it's quite easy to converse - at least until music starts to blare and a beautiful belly dancer emerges from nowhere, undulating rather briefly about the room and near tables. We didn't see anyone tipping her and it was only later that our server said it was appropriate to insert dollar bills into her low-rise, shimmering skirt. I begged my friends not to get up and dance with her, as two did at Nicola's.

Maybe it was because I was in the severe grip of noxious pollen allergies that make me wear sunglasses at night and feel like a sleep-walking zombie, but I did not find all of the food very good. My friends all liked it very much.

My starter, tahdig, is a Persian classic. Like my favorite dish from Chateau de Saigon, it's rice mined from the bottom of the pot, usually fried in olive oil until crunchy and topped with a stew. It was the latter, a lentil concoction, that I didn't find particularly savory.

Another starter on the table was a plate of kashk-o-bodenjoon described as "sauteed eggplant prepared with special blend of herbs and spices topped with cream of whey, sauteed onions and mint." In my limited experience, this is usually served as a spread. But in this version, the eggplant was apparently sauteed inside lengths of the eggplant skin and wasn't really spreadable. It was tasty enough, but others at the table who had tasted the dish at other restaurants agreed it was off-kilter.

It was my entree, albaloo polo, that I found most disturbing. It's another classic - rice cooked with sour cherries, and I loved that part. But the huge amount of rice was piled over two steamed chicken breast halves that were so dry I could not eat more than half of one. I took the rest home and got a dinner and a lunch out of the leftovers. To make it more palatable, I shredded the chicken and added some water to the bowl before reheating it in the microwave. Perfect.

Most everyone else at the table ordered lamb shanks or kebabs, all of them seemingly better than my dish. I give the restaurant props for some of the best flatbread I've encountered in a Persian restaurant in these parts. It was served with a generous helping of herbs, radishes and feta.

The service at the restaurant was amazing. Besides being unusually knowledgeable, our server was funny and tolerant of our, um, Midtown manners.

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