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Rumi’s Kitchen Redux: Beloved Persian restaurant joins the big leagues

rumiroom

All photos by Becky Stein

I first met Ali Mesghali some 15 years ago when he and his family ran a Persian restaurant called Shamshiri in a decrepit shopping strip set hard against I-285.

AJC Chief Dining Critic John Kessler writes about all cuisines.

AJC Chief Dining Critic John Kessler writes about all cuisines.

As I recall the evening, we wandered into an empty dining room and waited for a few moments for someone to appear. I eventually walked into the kitchen calling, “Helloooo, helloooo,” like a nosy neighbor. Mesghali, who appeared to be running a one-man show that evening, apologetically seated us at a table set with a few crumbs from the previous occupant’s bread.

But when our bread arrived — a blistering-hot naan fresh from the tandoor, served with green herbs, cheese and walnuts — all was forgiven. This restaurant didn’t seem ready for a full review, but it was a good tip for folks who like to explore promising international restaurants and don’t mind a poorly graded parking lot and the spare breadcrumb.

Mesghali opened his sophomore venture, Persepolis, just up the street in a former Chinese restaurant with a partner. This time, he had a hit. Not only the Persian ex-pat community embraced this comfortable, rambling, split-level restaurant. Seemingly everyone in Sandy Springs soon learned of the glories of the lunch buffet — a feast of grilled meats, fresh salads, dips and endless sheets of flatbreads fresh from the oven.

Freshly baked bread and sabzi garnish

Freshly baked naan and sabzi garnish

But his third restaurant, set on the same stretch of Roswell Road, proved to be the clincher. For Rumi’s Kitchen, Mesghali emptied his savings account, maxed out his credit cards and made the jump from destination ethnic restaurant to destination restaurant. The menu didn’t change much, but the design and ambition certainly did. The name signaled a leap into poetry and romance, and the design of the dining room (by Tony Akly of Restaurant Consulting Group) followed suit. Candlelight, rich tapestries and formally dressed chefs manning a showcase flatbread oven set the tone. It was a bistro, with an ever dressier clientele and a wine list that felt in line with the sophisticated decor.

But it was crowded. The tight, plush dining room could seat 250 customers over the course of a busting-at-the-seams evening, but many others found themselves turned away. My family and I occasionally tried to walk into Rumi’s on a weeknight, only to learn of a 90-minute wait.

rumiroom2Late last year, Mesghali made his most recent move. But this time, instead of ditching his restaurant, he took it with him. In December, he kicked Rumi’s Kitchen three doors down to a much larger space. Now he has a grand restaurant that looks on track to become a true Atlanta landmark.

The Johnson Studio designed this vast space with an eye to the wow factor. Under its soaring ceilings, potted trees don’t look out of place. Paintings the size of boxing rings don’t look out of place.

It is a long room clad in pale tile and creamy white marble, with an open exhibition kitchen along the far side. There, two beautiful tandoor ovens fashioned of rough stone and mortar churn out naan to keep the room fed. Cooks turn skewers of saffron-bathed beef, chicken and lamb over live coals.

The lighting is neither dim nor bright, but with an aqueous glow cast by soft green pendant lights. Subway tiles along a back wall are a pale blue, paler than a robin’s egg.

Now Mesghali feeds more than 400 people on a busy night and still has to turn guests away. Indeed, we have to wait at the bar for about 15 minutes past our 9:15 reservation.

Beyond the bar is a market with a pastry counter, dry goods and a refrigerated case filled with a mixture of fussy gourmet and Persian items. You can buy a six-pack of the fermented yogurt drink called “dough,” or you can buy a chocolate bar in fancy wrapping. Mesghali is already talking of ripping out the market and replacing it with more seating. That seems wise.

When you do get to your table, you will find that Mesghali has updated the now-standard Persian restaurant menu with some clever near-fusion dishes that don’t lose track of their roots.

Rumi's saffron wings

Rumi's saffron wings

You can start with an order of terrific chicken wings, charred to a crunch on the grill and tinged yellow with the essence of saffron. Lamb sliders arrive on pieces of naan you fold up like a taco, encasing roasted tomato, mint, yogurt and Persian cucumber pickle into a messy mouthful of greatness.

Best of show: a stew of lamb neck in an herbed potato broth. You pull the lush meat from the bone and spoon it with its sauce over dill-fava bean rice.

We are tempted by the too-sweet cocktails, such as a tarragon-spiked vodka lemonade. But next time, I’ll pay more attention to the now-serious wine list. From Vouvray to Zinfandel to the Bordeaux-style Chateau Musar from Lebanon, I see lots of wines that will warm to the clean flavors of Persian food.

As I look at the wine list, I can’t help feeling proud for Ali Mesghali and his family. From his hole-in-the-wall ethnic joint to this trailblazing new rendition of Rumi’s Kitchen, he has come a long way. I love stories about immigrants who cook well, think big and give the city something it hasn’t seen before. In fact, it’s what I like best about dining in Atlanta.

Rumi’s Kitchen. 6112 Roswell Road, Sandy Springs. 404-477-2100, www.rumiskitchen.com.

13 comments Add your comment

Ned Ludd

February 7th, 2013
8:05 am

Good Job, John. Thanks for bringing Rumi’s to our attention. Sounds great and I will definately try it and look forward to your full review which I am sure is forthcoming. Kudos to the Mesghali family. One of our favorite Persian spots was always Lawrences’s on Buford Hwy. I noticed it has closed but was told it was opening elsewhere. Any news as to when or where?

FM Fats

February 7th, 2013
8:31 am

Ned, Lawrence’s opened its new Decatur location just this week. It’s at 910 West College Avenue in the strip with Ale Yeah!, Revolution Donuts, and Avellino’s Pizza.

Edward

February 7th, 2013
10:42 am

Rumi’s Kitchen is a great place. I would also suggest Sufi’s if you’re in town. Service and food at Sufi’s is excellent.

Ned Ludd

February 7th, 2013
3:21 pm

Glad to hear that—Thanks FM !

Art

February 7th, 2013
5:23 pm

Rumi’s is one of our favorites… So happy that they are doing well…

Kevin

February 7th, 2013
10:11 pm

The portions are definitely smaller since the relocation.

[...] Rumi’s Kitchen Redux: Beloved Persian restaurant joins the big leagues [...]

Toni Moceri

February 8th, 2013
11:25 am

Rumi’s, reminds me of alot of places I miss so much from my home state of Michigan. I have introduced many friends to their old place on Roswell Road and look forward to trying the new space this weekend. YOU MUST……… try the food is absolutely fabulous. I love the journey story today John you wrote so beautifully. It inspires us all to never give up on our dreams.

Zoreh Mansoubi

February 10th, 2013
1:30 pm

Dear John,
I am very happy for Mr. Meschali for his success story, I have been there and the food is good. I love good ethnic food and Persian food is no different. Thanks to people like you, Atlantans have been introduced to, and embraced many great International cuisines. Your story today reminded me of another great one.
If you like to hear a romantic love story mixed with great culinary success, you should go to Flavor Restaurant and Bar to hear it first hand. It’s the true life story of an immigrant boy who came to US by himself, with no money, to follow his dream and marry his high school sweetheart. Later he became the Executive Corporate Pasty Chef for Ritz Carlton Hotels and won many gold and silver medals in Culinary competitions (framed by his wife and displayed at the restaurant). After years he found his high school sweetheart in Atlanta and moved to our great city to marry her. Today he is the Chef-owner of Flavor Restaurant and Bar in heart of Sandy Springs, which is newly renovated and completely transformed form a very busy lunch Cafe to a beautiful full service Restaurant and Bar. You must try HIS version of Persian food with a “twist”. He personally cooks, bakes and works seven days a week to make sure every thing on his menu is made from scratch. While you are there, do not forget to try his mouthwatering desserts.
Chef Peter Teimori is truly a culinary star who has been “flying under the radar” You will be pleasantly surprised and will love the experience.

Mark M.

February 11th, 2013
12:46 am

John,
With all due respect I would have to disagree with your take on the food quality at Rumi’s as there are better ones around specially considering the super high price at Rumi’s. I think you are blindsided by the glitz and the crowd. Just at what point does the price of en entree become too much for what you get? How can one justify a price of $20 for 8 oz of chicken kebab that costs $2 per pound with some white rice and a grilled tomato? Even high end glitzy restaurants in Las Vegas or Manhattan don’t dare charge $20 for chicken and plain rice or $25 for grilled lamb leg and again some rice. And there is some dishonesty on the menu like advertising center cut filet for beef shish kebab when any self respecting chef or foodie could tell that they are really serving a well tenderized sirloin or another cheaper cut of beef that is definitely not filet.

Teresa

February 11th, 2013
7:49 am

Yes- check out Flavor Restaurant and Bar just down the road from Rumi’s. Family owned & run, Persian cuisine, beautiful decor. I enjoyed New Year’s at the restaurant – they too were turning folks away. I look forward to reading a positive review!

Hairy Armenian Guy

February 11th, 2013
9:17 pm

Never tried Rumi’s as it looked more flash than substance…may be I should go but coming from a Persian Armenian, the food pics on Yelp look okay. Typical fare. And I’ve dined at some great places in Glendale, CA…home of 1000s of Persian restaurants.

For those who are into Middle Eastern food, you should try Persepolis off Roswell (north of Rumi’s by Toyota). We’ve been going here as a family for years and they deliver. Their Sultani (which to me is the staple dish of any Persian spot) is a dollar cheaper and is about the same size if not large in portion. Not into Persian chicken or the other meats so I can’t judge on that. Persians make beef and steak the best.

Try the Kashk-o-Bodenjoon as well. The bread they give you to munch on is awesome here and goes great with the Bodenjoon.

And next door is a Persian food deli with fresh meats and cheeses and other Persian products. You may feel weird going in there if you’re not Persian or speak but it’s worth it.

Richard D

February 12th, 2013
5:20 pm

Rumi’s is awesome and I can’t wait to try the new space. My mouth waters just thinking about it.

The other night I had a hankering for Persian food and figured I’d give Colbeh (in Decatur) a shot. What an utterly awful experience, from start to finish (ie, both food and hospitality (or lack of same) were terrible). The contrast with Rumi’s could not have been more stark and I look forward to digging into Mr. Mesghali’s tasty treats soon.