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30 Restaurants in 30 Days: Rumi’s Kitchen

AJC Staff

AJC Staff

Do you know what an 11-top is? In restaurant parlance, this is a table of 11 and, believe me, you do not want to be stuck on the tail end of one of those.

When we arrive at Rumi’s Kitchen — a Persian restaurant in Sandy Springs that I’ve long been eager to try — we discovered that an 11-top had walked in not 5 minutes before us. They seem an amiable group of young men in their 20’s who had chosen to cluster in one large conversation circle in the half-opened front door. If I had to guess their function, I would say Dungeons & Dragons Meetup Group or, perhaps, an I.T. Department office party.

The hostess tries to bring them inside to the narrow front bar area but they then block all passage into the restaurant, so she shoos them outside. She just kind of pushes on the perimeter of the group and they all shuffle out the door en masse.

“It’ll be just a few minutes,” she tells us with a smile.

A lesser restaurant than Rumi’s Kitchen would have been completely undone by this party. But Rumi’s has that rare staff that apparently gives better service the busier it gets. Judging by a full house on this recent Sunday night, busy is the constant here.

I had a feeling I’d like the food at Rumi’s Kitchen, but I no idea how great the full package is. Few restaurants in Atlanta have such a clear sense of identity.

Owner Ali Mesghali has bopped around the Roswell Road Persian dining scene for a while. I can remember eating his food at the somber and usually empty Shamshiri. In 2000, he opened Persepolis in a bright and stucco-walled space that looked like it was once a Parthenon-themed Greek restaurant. I mostly remember the cheesy/tatty decor, the excellent food and the mad rush when a fresh platter of kebabs dropped on the lunch buffet.

Oh, and I once went there with a colleague, his wife and their Persian neighbors just a few weeks before the colleague and the Persian wife revealed their affair and ran off. It was an uncomfortable evening despite the excellent kashk badenjoon (eggplant dip with whey and fried onions).

AJC Staff

AJC Staff

For Rumi’s Kitchen, Mesghali has hired a good local design firm to give the narrow space the pleasantly cramped energy of a popular neighborhood bistro. There’s just enough glittering lights and shimmering fabric to suggest the mysticism for which Rumi, the 13th Century poet, is known.

As you walk into the dining room, you pass the open, tiled oven in which a chef bakes taftoun — the bubbly, crackly flatbreads you will eat far too much of over the course of the meal. Each order comes with fresh tarragon and mint sprigs, feta cheese, butter, radishes and walnuts, though you’ll want to get an order of that kashk bademjoon — as good here as it was at Persepolis. The Rumi’s dip (otherwise known as hummus) also makes fast friends with the flatbread.

Unlike other Persian restaurants around town, Rumi’s gives short shrift to stews that are such an important part of the Persian cooking repertoire. The kitchen makes a really good rendition of ghormeh sabzi, which is a beef or veal stew (veal, according to the menu here) cooked with loads of herbs, kidney beans and sour dried lime, But this restaurant is, at heart, a kebab house.

AJC Staff

AJC Staff

You should order a variety of kebabs and have them presented on a communal platter. Barg features fat slices of beef tenderloin that has been cut and cooked (counterintuitively) with the grain, which gives the meat a beefy chewiness and grill-crisped edges. I’m more of a fan of the koobideh kebab made with seasoned ground chuck. On the waiter’s advice we also got a chicken kebab, which brought chunks of breast  meat that looked gorgeous but had little flavor and a cottony, dry texture. A sprinkle of sumac — the tart, purple seasoning powder placed on each table — helped. But, seriously, we packed up most of the chicken and tried to pawn it off in sandwiches the next day.

All kebabs come with a mound of white and saffron basmati rice that’s so vast you could burrow in it, and a grill-blackened roma tomato. Persians like to mash their tomato into the rice. I told my kids this and they mashed their tomatoes to a fare thee well, but declared the rice was better before. I tend to agree.

Good Persian food, such as this, has flavors that aren’t merely clean but immaculate. Salt, lemon, yogurt, saffron, sumac, grill char: each flavor comes through as a clear, stark chime. You know when you visit someone’s house that is so scrubbed and shined that you know there isn’t an eddy of dust or grimy surface anywhere? That’s what this food tastes like.

But more than anything, I was impressed with how well the staff kept up during our visit as the 11-top next to us kept asking for more Coke and bread.

We skipped dessert but lingered over small cups of strong tea served with cinnamon and saffron sugar cubes. By the time my kids started eating the sugar cubes without any tea, I realized it was time to go.

Was there anything I missed on the menu? And am I right — is the service here really a cut above?

“Remember, the entrance door to the sanctuary is inside you.” — Rumi

“Remember, the entrance door to Rumi’s Kitchen is about a half mile north of I-285.” — Kessler

32 comments Add your comment

Michael Erickson

November 2nd, 2009
1:51 pm

When Twittering about “30 Restaurants in 30 Days’ use hash tag #30in30

JIMBOB

November 2nd, 2009
1:56 pm

it’s been a while since I ate here, but it was excellent. I’m not sure how anyone could fail to like Persian cuisine, and they do it well.

John Kessler

November 2nd, 2009
2:02 pm

GREAT idea Michael.

M. Johnson

November 2nd, 2009
2:38 pm

“I was impressed with how well the staff kept up during our visit as the 11-top next to us kept asking for more Coke and bread. … By the time my kids started eating the sugar cubes without any tea, I realized it was time to go.”

John, great work, as usual. Heading over to Twitter so I can start following you…now!

F-105 Thunderchief

November 2nd, 2009
2:56 pm

Kessler writing about restaurants. They only thing that could be better is a genetically engineered Kessler/Elliot Mackle clone writing about restaurants. Oh, happy day!

F-105 Thunderchief

November 2nd, 2009
3:07 pm

Is Veni Vidi Vici still around?

Thomas SENOR

November 2nd, 2009
3:29 pm

You should eat at Pappi’s. It’s great food and it’s near where you live! Ask for me, I’m Thomas Senor!

Bobby Amirshahi

November 2nd, 2009
3:39 pm

I’m Iranian and I love this place…when family visits, always take them to Rumi’s. I agree that their gaemas (stews) could be stronger, but they are still tasty, and their kabobs are amazing. Thank you, John – it’s a pleasure to read your work.

Emily R

November 2nd, 2009
3:49 pm

I really like the braised lamb shank there, it is so tender it falls off the bone and incredibly succulent.

Renee

November 2nd, 2009
4:12 pm

Rumi’s has great lamb chops and also a rice with raisins and nuts. The staff is always very nice and helpful.

Adam

November 2nd, 2009
4:56 pm

Several of us from work go there every so often for lunch. And a couple of us are Persian (not me). Most of us get the Chingeh kabob (sirloin, if I recall). It is great for the price. And if they have the sour cherry rice, it is well worth the extra dollar or two.

Art

November 2nd, 2009
6:22 pm

How does the saying go? Sex is like riding a bike… you never forget? John, so nice to have you back doing what you do oh so well… Rumi’s is a fun place with good food.. sliding between some of the close tables can be a challenge especially if you don’t care to light a body part on fire….

[...] The rest is here: 30 Restaurants in 30 Days: Rumi's Kitchen | Food and More with … [...]

Rachel Forrest

November 2nd, 2009
7:01 pm

I want to live somewhere where there are Persian restaurants! And I will burrow in the rice.

Colly

November 2nd, 2009
8:54 pm

JK’s back on the restaurant beat…thank goodness.

top chef fanatic

November 3rd, 2009
12:04 am

never really got into persian food john …but i have alot of friends that tell me that rumis is the place to dine. I guess i need to be more open on my cuisine and start tasting some, Great piece anyways and look foward to the next 29:)

uberVU - social comments

November 3rd, 2009
5:14 am

Social comments and analytics for this post…

This post was mentioned on Twitter by jdkess: RT @AJCFoodandMore My first of 30 Restaurants in 30 Days http://tinyurl.com/yebgpq7…

mandym

November 3rd, 2009
9:40 am

Welcome back John! You need to try the tahdig (crispy rice) topped with the veal and eggplant stew – my favorite appetizer there. Also, the chicken barg is much better than the chicken kebab, especially with a side of the creamy garlic yogurt sauce.

j. k. kersting

November 3rd, 2009
1:02 pm

Did I miss the address (other than “1/2 mile north of I-285″ – in Sandy Springs) and the phone number, or are they not in the article?

Victoria Elder

November 3rd, 2009
2:36 pm

This is SOOOO exciting to a foodie like me! Can’t get enough of you, John! Hey – what ever happened to Eliot? Sure liked him as well.

You Persian nuts in Cobb County should give Falafel Cafe off of Cobb Pky near Life College a visit. Reza’s eggplant dip is just killer. I even picked it up to bring to a good friend in mourning who would not eat anything and she greedily consumed the whole dish! I did not get one bite. Fave kabob there is the ground sirloin. Gyro meat is first rate. Plus, there is a small middle eastern grocery next door where you can grab rosewater and such.

Dee

November 3rd, 2009
10:44 pm

Another wonderful piece of John Kessler’s writing that makes me feel like I visited the restaurant myself, all while amusing and entertaining me. Your blog is like a little snack I treat myself to every day. Thanks for sharing.

Craig

November 4th, 2009
1:26 pm

If you had tried the salmon you certainly would have raved about it as well. The Sultani is my favorite choice on the menu. The staff is not just attentive but very easy on the eyes as well. Too bad you skipped the dessert, Chef has some interesting ice cream offerings.

Linda

November 4th, 2009
3:11 pm

I love Rumis. I’ve taken several friends there and they enjoy it as well. Thanks for giving us a review close to the west side of town. We live in East Cobb and I struggle to find good restaurants nearby. Good writing.

Sophy

November 4th, 2009
3:13 pm

Can you adopt me?? I would have loved to be the daughter of a restaurant critic when I was a kid! Once a foodie, always a foodie.

John Kessler

November 4th, 2009
3:59 pm

thanks, Dee and Linda and others. Sophy, I think my kids would warn you off any adoption plans!

janet

November 4th, 2009
5:09 pm

I was told by an Iranian friend who is a fabulous cook to eat at Rumis. She was so right. Of all the very good restaurants in the Metro area, Rumis is probably my favorite for a dinner that I can’t/ won’t cook. The owner is so nice and the food is wonderful. I love the fresh tarragon at the beginning. Lunch menu is less expensive than dinner and there is no lunch menu on the weekends. It is a wonderful experience. And welcome back, John.

Kim

November 4th, 2009
8:26 pm

I’ve only been once (so far) but I STILL salivate at the thought of Rumi’s lamb kabobs and that awesome rice (am I am not a big rice eater). They were packed the night I went, so my friend and I sat at the bar, had a glass of red wine and lamb kabobs. Heaven.

TH

November 5th, 2009
12:02 pm

Love Rumi’s!! The lamb and salmon are awesome!!

John

November 5th, 2009
12:44 pm

I was at Rumi’s last Friday evening and just loved it. You definitely missed something with the desserts, though. There was a combination sorbet and ice dessert where the two halves complemented each other perfectly. The service is certainly excellent; our server was spot-on all night. I preferred the barg to the koobideh, but it’s a preference matter. Neither was inferior in any objective way, and both were still tasty for lunch the next day.

EWB

November 6th, 2009
7:39 am

Please come to Stone Mountain – The Sycamore Grill…..www.sycamoregrill.com. You will not be dissappointed!!

Tom

November 6th, 2009
6:16 pm

My wife and I eat here often and always have a pleasant, enjoyable meal. The bread and herbs “appetizers” are great starters as are all the real “appetizers” we’ve tried. I love the stew you mention as well as the beef dish with sauce spooned over more of the bread! All the kabobs we’ve had are also excellent, although I will say the chicken has tended to be dry and we now don’t order that. Salmon is excellent as are the lamb and beef, tho. Two thumbs up on Rumi’s.

Persian Dude

November 15th, 2009
9:29 pm

I went to Rumi’s tonight. Food is excellent, no question about it. If you are Iranian and familiar with how we make kabobs (since childhood), then you know Rumi’s kabobs are the best in Atlanta ( sorry Mirage and perspolis and fanoos and ….)
The room and space in Rumi’s is a different story. It is right out small and cramped. They seriously should invest in the empty building next to them and expand. It is a shame this exquisite food is served in this itty bitty place.
Oh and one more thing, the hostess tonight… my god she is so pretty..