Exotic. Fragrant. Picturesque. Lilting Persian music and the scent of spices fill the air. Golden light flickering from wrought iron lamps, dark staircase leading upwards to a semi-secluded dining room decorated with handmade Persian art chosen from the bustling bazaars of Esfahan and Shiraz. Gold-embellished hookahs standing ready on a brick-lined bar topped with little Persian treasures.
And of course, on the amber glass door and windows stand sentinels, drawn in simple white graphics, that remind you of Persian kings found on the walls of Xerxes’ eastern palace at Persepolis, the Greek name for “Persian City”.
The Greek conqueror Alexander the Great made his own mark upon the ancient kingdom of Persia, which shows itself here with fare that is a mix of Middle Eastern and Greek cuisine. Chef Patty and her husband Ali Parsaei of Tehran, Iran, have blended the two cultures exquisitely in this new reincarnation of their very popular Middle Eastern Cuisine Café, formerly on Montgomery Street across from the courthouse and now closed due to the death of their beloved landlady.
While their former place was more of a lunch café, this newest rendition is more geared towards elegance and high-end dining with authentic flavors found in her native country. I’ve raved to my friends over the taste of their rich hummus and warm pita bread, the aromatic piquancy of the red Persian Wildberry Tea and the selection of beef and lamb kabobs.
When I heard of this newly born incarnation, I was very eager to see what they had created. Since Persepolis also had a food booth at the recent SCAD International Festival in Forsyth Park, the meaty beef Kofta patties and delicate saffron rice made me even more certain to plan a visit.
This is not a casual place to stop for falafel and hummus before class, and it is only open for dinner. There is a bar full of Greek and other international wines and a wild selection of over 30 flavors of spiced shisha, that moist, sweet-smelling tobacco used only in hookahs.
There are no immediate plans for belly dancers, though Patty’s father will have one at his 94th birthday party next week. But since the place is so new, having only opened in February this year, I’d check back from time to time to see what Ali has planned.
Patty is the chef, and Ali, in his seat by the door, overlooks the restaurant to see that customers are satisfied and happy. Patty also manages the décor and can tell you about each intricate painting, vase and the metal plates that were made by hand with a hammer and nailpoints to punch out the design.
She tells me the menu is also expanded from their former place, with many kinds of jasmine and basmati rice, like the wonderful white and gold Shirin Polo, delicately flavored with saffron, blanched almonds and fragile threads of fresh orange zest.
The salads here are just as wonderful, with an exciting mix of flavors: My personal favorite is the Village Salad made of crisp purple onion, kalamata olives (watch for pits!), baby tomatoes in red and yellow, cucumber chunks, big cubes of salty feta cheese and whole pepperoncini.
If that were not flavorful enough, Patty adds fresh, plump raspberries and blackberries on the side which give the whole taste a delicate, pleasing sweetness.
The flavors are brought out beautifully by the citrus dressing and a splash of extra virgin olive oil, provided in its own little white pitcher.
Lovers of Greek cuisine will find the moussaka made with pan-fried eggplant and sliced potatoes, layered with a Turkish style meat sauce and topped with parmesan cheese and creamy béchamel sauce. The handmade spanakopita, in its buttery fillo dough, stuffed with baby spinach, fresh dill and feta cheese, is not to be missed.
I chose the Chicken Koobideh for my own dinner recently. The combo of ground chicken, butter and fresh spices formed into long patties and grilled to perfection, makes an excellent and very filling dinner, especially when combined with the sautéed mixed vegetables and one of the beautifully fragrant new rice dishes flavored with saffron and tossed with almonds, pistachios, lentils or raisins.
Vegetarians will find plenty to choose from with meat-free salads with homemade dressings and oily Kalamata olives, or the earthy falafel balls served with tzatziki sauce or hummus.
Try the KooKoo Trio, an aromatic dish of herbs, zucchini and cauliflower in a quiche, served with creamy tzatziki.
If meaty kabobs are what you crave, you’ll find them here in many forms, like the marinated filet mignon, tender chicken breast, seasoned ground beef or chicken, or the most popular, the lamb rack of tenderloins, all of them roasted over live flame, bursting with juicy flavor.
Baklava, sweet milk pie and tiramisu ladyfingers dipped in coffee and layered with mascarpone cheese, then topped with cocoa, are the featured desserts, though these change each week so be sure to ask about specials.
At 9 p.m., when most diners have finished off the last kabob and the last sip of tea, it’s time to bring out the beautiful glass hookahs and make your choice of shisha.
As I chatted with Patty upstairs, a soft cloud of scent arose from the dining room below, a spicy, exotic aroma that made my senses tingle: it was customers enjoying 7-Spice shisha...the perfect end to a great meal.