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Sufi’s Atlanta restaurant review, Atlanta

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There is a scene in the movie “Midnight in Paris” where the protagonist leaves a Parisian bistro in the 1920s to which he has been magically transported. He rounds the corner but then doubles back, only to discover he has returned to the modern day. That bistro that had been so full of life and laughter in a previous era was now a neon-lit laundromat.

Review by John Kessler

Review by John Kessler

I can look around Atlanta and see some of the ghosts of restaurants past. When I drive past the Buckhead Bottle Bar, looking stark against the moonscape of stalled construction all around it, I remember it as the restaurant Blais, where my friends and I ate a 31-course menu prepared by the pre-“Top Chef” Richard Blais. After that epic meal we walked through the raunchy streetscape that used to be, as drunks spilled from bars and a girl on a swing swayed in a window front, her miniskirt fluttering.

But I haven’t been here long enough to remember when three popular restaurants lined up all in a row on Peachtree Street, like a small dining oasis in the no-man’s land between Midtown and Buckhead. Shipfeifer, serving then-exotic Mediterranean food and gyro wraps, opened in 1975. Huey’s, a New Orleans beignet and ice cream spot that soon expanded its offerings, opened in 1983. R. Thomas Deluxe Grill, with its juicy burgers and health food options, opened in 1985. These three patio-fronted restaurants were a friendly beacon for the young families moving back to Brookwood Hills and surrounding neighborhoods, and to the office workers in the new high-rises of Midtown.

Cornish hen kabob with saffron and basmati rice (photos by Becky Stein)

Cornish hen kabob with saffron and basmati rice (photos by Becky Stein)

Today, only R. Thomas remains from the original three. Its rambling garden setting and sidewalk aviary, which The Atlanta Journal-Constitution described in 1986 as “ultramodern,” remains charmingly intact. Huey’s sports a “for lease” sign. But Shipfeifer, empty since 2008, has an exciting new tenant — one that is bringing life back to this newly desirable location.

Sufi’s Atlanta is the first serious Persian restaurant to open intown. Fans of this cuisine who live far from the Persian nexus of Sandy Springs have reason to rejoice. Sufi’s matches, point for refined point, the better examples of Persian cuisine. The naan flatbreads come hot from the oven with a generous platter of sabzi khordan (herbs, cheese and nuts). The stews have intriguing, packed flavor that will engage your tongue. The kebobs showcase exemplary technique, each morsel of meat as spiced as it is charred and as tender as it is juicy.

The renovation of the building has been transformative. A tiled bread oven fronts an open kitchen, and the sight of cooks removing bubbly rounds of naan with long peels immediately engages the “feed me” center of your brain. To one side lies a bar (that would tempt if the restaurant served alcohol) and a patio that’s well-shielded from Peachtree traffic by a hedge of potted trees. To the other lies the dining room, all high-gloss furniture, maroon walls and glowing lights — elegant but also a bit cramped as you squeeze through to a table.

If you remember to bring a bottle of wine, the staff will be happy to open it and provide decent glassware. They’re also eager to walk you through the menu, which follows the Persian restaurant template to the letter.

Freshly baken naan with sabzi

Freshly baken naan with sabzi

Soon you are feasting on that bread, cut into sharp wedges that you wrap around the goodies in the sabzi khordan plate: radishes, fresh frills of tarragon, poached walnuts, butter, cilantro, crumbly white cheese.

You’ve been smart to order appetizers, which come in time for the last wedges of bread. Kashk bademjan ($7) brings eggplant spread as rich as butter, the roasted flesh creamed with yogurt whey and then topped with palate-tingling fried onions and mint. Warm dolmeh (stuffed grape leaves, $6) taste unlike any other, popping with juicy beef and raisins, so delicious swiped through their bed of thick, cool yogurt. Shirazi salad ($5), a dice of cucumber, onion and tomato in a sprightly olive oil and lemon dressing, is as good as any out there, thanks to a generous hand with fresh parsley. The herb isn’t chopped but rather plucked, mini-floret by mini-floret.

With any luck, your kebobs arrive before you succumb to the temptation of more bread, because you will feast. Joojeh ($17) brings a whole Cornish hen, cut into eight pieces and threaded on skewers. You want to gnaw each meaty, bony piece clean and revel in the flavors of saffron and char, in the crisp skin and the supple meat, so tender from its yogurt marinade.

A Soltani kebob platter ($19) brings the beefy best of both worlds — one skewer of seasoned ground koubideh and one of marinated filet mignon. It may not be quite the juicy revelation of the Soltani kebob platter at Rumi’s Kitchen in Sandy Springs, but it doesn’t disappoint the beef freak at our table.

But, better, get the rack of lamb. Better yet, get it at lunch, when $17 buys you five jewel-like lamb chops, each fat nugget of saffron-tinged meat on the tip of a dainty, perfectly cleaned bone.

All kebobs sidle a huge mound of basmati rice with a charred tomato for mashing into it. For a $3 surcharge you can sub out one of the great flavored rice dishes. Shirin polo — with its lavish gilding of pistachio, carrot, orange zest, raisins and almond slivers — has all the glamour. But I’m still thinking about the baghala polo, turned forest green with dill and dotted with creamy fava beans.

Fesenjoon

Fesenjoon

I also give big ups to the fesenjoon ($16), a chicken stew in a ruddy sauce of ground walnuts and pomegranate molasses that can elsewhere taste too sweet and cloying. Here, there’s a meaty flavor to the sauce that gives it an underlying umami boost like a good bass line.

If I have a (small) complaint, it’s that the service doesn’t always keep up with the ambitions of this not-inexpensive restaurant. These friendly, welcoming folks can leave you with drained water glasses throughout your meal and neglect to check in after entrees arrive. They offer dessert before clearing the table but don’t offer to box up your leftovers. Rather, you get a lone clamshell to cram everything into yourself.

A vegetarian might not take to this otherwise veg-friendly spot if they attempt to order the dolmeh that, delicious as they are, are listed as vegetarian on the menu.

That said, Sufi’s Atlanta should satisfy everyone who loves Persian food. More than that, it brings good energy back to a stretch of Peachtree that is looking less like the ghost of the past and more like the promise of the future.

SUFI’S ATLANTA
1814 Peachtree St., Atlanta, 404-888-9699
3stars5
Food: Refined Persian cuisine that competes with the best in town
Service: Friendly and attentive, but not always as polished and prompt as the prices would suggest
Best dishes: Cornish hen kabob, lamb chop kabob, fesenjoon stew, stuffed grape leaves
Vegetarian selections: Quite a few, including an atypical spicy vegetarian stew
Credit cards: All major
Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday; 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday
Children: Best for older kids in the dining room; little ones would be happier on the patio
Parking: Private lot by day, valet by night
Reservations: Yes
Wheelchair access: Full
Smoking: No
Noise level: Moderate to high
Patio: A lovely one
Takeout: Yes
ratings_key_febUSE

25 comments Add your comment

VickiF

June 23rd, 2011
7:09 am

We love this place. Glad you liked it too!

Sufi’s | Eat It, Atlanta

June 23rd, 2011
8:55 am

[...] to write a few sentences about each photo, then Kessler comes along and makes Sufi’s his restaurant review of the week. Go check it out. I think John is an excellent and entertaining writer. It’s tough to write a [...]

Steve

June 23rd, 2011
9:45 am

I’ve eaten here several times, and have been disappointed by their inability to cook lamb kabobs. Typically a staple of persian cuisine, the lamb has come out over done each time to the point of rubbery (the worst part was I wanted the lamb shank, but the server advised me against it and instead to go for the lamb kabob). On the other hand, the shish kabob here was one of the most tender and delicious persian dishes i’ve had in Atlanta. Kinda surprised at the 3 star review based on my experience.

rebelliousrose

June 23rd, 2011
10:01 am

I adore Sufi’s! Wonderful place!! My favorite is the rice with bilberries…tangy and sweet at the same time.

Billie

June 23rd, 2011
10:05 am

I remember all three of those — those were the days!!!
Also the Coach and Six which was jusst across the street and down a bit. . . .

TimB

June 23rd, 2011
11:01 am

Great review. I have had the same experience in my many visits to this restaurant. The appetizers are phenomenal, and the main dishes are just as good. The only downside for me personally was the no liquor license yet, however I was told it shall be coming soon. Other than that I have absolutely no complaints and am glad to see a compliment to R.Thomas on good ‘ol Peachtree street again. Sufi’s is definitely a once a week stop for me and my wife.

Edward

June 23rd, 2011
11:37 am

Coach and Six was never across the street, it was on the same side of the street, just down the block, in the 1776 building on the corner of 26th and Peachtree. I do miss Huey’s, the muffelettas were great there. R. Thomas is always reliable. I’ve been meaning to stop in Sufi’s, I walk by there a lot, but after reading this review I will definitely make plans to enjoy some of these great dishes.

FoodFan

June 23rd, 2011
12:27 pm

Really enjoyed it here. It’s a bit pricey for the food ($15-$25 for kebabs) but the fact that you can bring your own wine makes up for it.

Secret: you can order half shirazi salad & half rice with your kebab instead of just the MOUNTAIN of rice it comes with on the regular menu.

Kirk

June 23rd, 2011
12:29 pm

I passed along the review to my Persian brother-in-law who always goes to Sandy Springs. I will get his verdict soon I am sure. He comes up to ATL from Savannah and always has to have some good eatin’.

Mike

June 23rd, 2011
12:46 pm

The one restaurant I miss in that same side of the street a few doors down is Rocky’s Pizzeria. Owner and chef were both Italian and they made their own fresh mozzarella cheese. They had the only real authentic Italian pizza in town that tasted same as you would have in the Toscany in Italy.

Billie

June 23rd, 2011
2:19 pm

Thanks for the correction, Edward — I lived on the other side of Brookwood Station then!!
Rocky’s was wonderful also.

nsk

June 23rd, 2011
3:34 pm

This is far more effusive than I would’ve expected from a Kessler review. It’s almost like he’s never eaten Persian food, and I can’t believe that would be the case.

It would’ve been insightful and helpful to compare Sufi’s to Persepolis and Rumi’s. In my mind, having been to each restaurant a few times, they seem totally interchangeable. I fail to see any reason to frequent one over another, except for distance.

To add a perspective on the service here, they inexplicably cancelled my Opentable reservation while I was eating at the restaurant (an e-mail appeared on my phone). At the end of the meal, I asked the maitre’d to un-cancel it so I would get the Opentable points; he said he would, and he never did. Only after I complained to Opentable did I get the points. I’m not sure what was going on there.

John

June 23rd, 2011
5:16 pm

Service at Sufi’s has gone downhill recently and is disasterous at times. Server’s that forget things you order, do not refill water glasses, etc. I guess it may have to do with what I have heard are disagreements between the 2 partners to the point that they want to sell the restaurant, and even one chef leaving. One partner sat next to me last week hoping that I could find them a buyer. I could not beleive that as a customer he felt so comfortable to bring these issues up with me. Kind of sad and pathetic if you ask me.

USMC

June 23rd, 2011
9:55 pm

Ironically, I just ate at Sufi’s tonight and loved it.
The food was excellent.
I had the Dolma and Shish-Kabob. I would usually get the Soltani but wanted grilled vegetables as well.

All of their stews are really tasty as well; Gormah Subzi and Gehmeh.

Finally, a Persian restaurant in Buckhead!

David

June 23rd, 2011
10:44 pm

Sufi is really good. Coming from an Iranian the food is better or comparable to best restaurants in Tehran. It also beats going to Rumi’s. I quit going to Rumis after a very bad Father’s day experience where the manager asks us to leave right after we finished our meal. I never went back again.

SBinF

June 23rd, 2011
11:49 pm

Happened upon this place yesterday, was heading to R. Thomas but stopped here instead. We began with the Sufi’s special. It was a flavor-packed little appetizer. The tomato sauce, most importantly tasted like tomato, a little sweet, but a nice tartness to it. The sauce however did not overpower the somewhat more delicate eggplant.

My friend had the chicken kabob salad. The chicken was tender, and seasoned perfectly, no need to amend upon service. I had the lamb shank. It was a textbook tasty braise, heart and wholesome. Given the robust flavors of the rest of the meal, it was a little bland, but definitely quite lovely. Accompanying my meal was the side of rice with dill and fava beans. Not a bean fan, so I picked those out, the rice was delicately treated by the dill, and cooked perfectly.

One thing to remember for now, they don’t have a liquor license, so you must bring your own bottle of wine to enjoy. As well, they were running short on dessert. We were fortunate to get one of the last two servings of their Persian ice cream. I’d never had such a thing, and the flavor was very unexpected, but in a nice way. I immediately picked up on the rosewater in the mixture. Saffron soon followed, and the whole concoction had a nice crunch thanks to (I believe) pistachio nuts. Strangely enough, when I asked the server about the ice cream, she revealed that many people were turned off by the unique flavor profile.

All in all, a pretty decent dining experience. The price relegates this restaurant to a special occasion spot, or a place I would take a friend with a developed palate who was in the mood for something different.

Elizabeth

June 24th, 2011
8:26 am

So he remembers all the bars in Buckhead, but he doesn’t remember when Huey’s, Shipfeifer, and R.Thomas were open at the same time? That was only 3 or 4 years ago, TOPS, and the Buckhead bar scene has been gone much longer than that…What exactly is he talking about??

Theron Sapp

June 24th, 2011
8:32 am

Mr. Kessler, a fine review as always, and you’ve touched on one of the minor tragedies of life intown. Blame it on greed, real estate prices, whatever, but the restaurant scene today in Buckhead — ostensibly the entertainment heart of the city — is far worse than it was 20 years ago. We keep hoping somebody will bring some more moderate-priced, non-chain restaurants back to the neighborhood (a decent tavern would be nice, too), but it’s taking a while.

Edward

June 24th, 2011
12:11 pm

Amen on the decent tavern. Cheyenne Grill is not.

Jenny

June 24th, 2011
12:14 pm

John, this is entirely unrelated, but I thought you might like to know that the bad guy on Burn Notice last night was named John Kessler!

Robert

June 25th, 2011
1:34 pm

And what about Herren’s – downtown?

Chicago Guy Stuck in ATL

June 25th, 2011
3:30 pm

I more than agree with Theron Sapp. I recently went back to Chicago for a long weekend. What a town…what a town! Never ceases to amaze me. The restaurant/bar scene in Chicago is so vibrant and full of life, it makes me sad that I had to leave it all and come back to Atlanta.

who still thinks atlanta doesn't suck?

June 25th, 2011
4:24 pm

who still thinks atlanta doesn’t suck?

Peter

June 27th, 2011
10:57 am

And how about across the street from Herren’s. Ship Ahoy, they had the best baked sweetbread. The only ones I can find, even in New Orleans, are fried. one more good thing gone.

Queen Nerfballteedi

June 27th, 2011
2:49 pm

JK, I usually don’t agree with your reviews but you hit it on the head here. Really good food with friendly but neglectful service. However it’s certainly worth putting up for the Kabobs! Yay Kabobs!