First Look: Sufi's

Persian on Peachtree Street

Any restaurant with the name Sufi's (1814 Peachtree St., 404-888-9699) instantly attracts me for the same reason that Rumi's Kitchen in Sandy Springs does. Both are Persian and both are allusions to the mystical aspect of Islam called Sufism, best known for the 13th century poet Jalal al-Din Rumi.

Rumi's followers established the order we know as the Whirling Dervishes and, like him, the order stresses aesthetics as a path to God, as well as development of the heart as a sense organ. Sufism has much in common with imaginal psychology, central to my doctoral studies.

It's not surprising that food connected to such a heart-based religion would be beautiful in its elegant, often complex fusion of flavors. Ancient Persia stretched from Greece to India and dining was a virtual obsession in the great cities of the empire. Thus diners will inevitably find a lot of familiar dishes at the Persian table, such as stuffed grape leaves, which we tend to associate more directly with Greece. But, in my opinion, the flavors of Persia (now Iran) make this dish much more appealing.

I've had two dinners and one lunch at Sufi's during the last few weeks and have yet to encounter anything significantly unpleasant. The restaurant itself is beautiful, with slightly tented fabric suspended from the ceiling, an open kitchen showing off a wood-burning oven and a bar (not yet serving alcohol) tucked to the side. Overall, the restaurant seems to glow at night. (It's also open for lunch.)

Were I to recommend a single entrée here, it would be the fesenjoon, a sweet and slightly sour stew of chicken breast meat, grated walnuts, pomegranate juice and pomegranate molasses. Like most dishes here, it's served with basmati rice sprinkled with the saffron that appears in a lot of Persian cooking. The chicken chunks were tender and played well with the stew's sweetness. I do warn you, though: About halfway through the dish, I started to OD on the sweetness. You might want to share it and another entrée with someone.

The restaurant's hummus is flawless and will give you an idea of how much bad hummus there is in this town. But my favorite appetizer has been Sufi's Special — a blend of the eggplant that's used in much Persian cooking with onion, garlic, chick peas and a tomato sauce. Scoop it up with the restaurant's flawless charred bread. I also liked the dolmeh — grape leaves stuffed with rice, yellow split peas, chives, tarragon and parsley. It bears mentioning that all of the appetizers are vegetarian.

I've had two other stews. Ghemeh Badenjoon included more sautéed eggplant with split peas, tomato sauce, beef and mysterious spices. I have one complaint: The beef was cut into really tiny cubes. Perhaps this is traditional, but I want chunks big enough to chew a few times.

The other stew was Ghormeh Sabzi, featuring larger pieces of beef, cooked with lots of sautéed parsley, scallions, cilantro and fenugreek, plus dried lime and red beans. The sauce was delicious but the beef had a slightly gamy taste. When I mentioned this to Brian, the personable manager, he told me that he'd heard the same thing from other diners but blamed it on the herbs. In any case, I acclimated quickly.

However, I found the same overt gaminess present in the lamb shank, Baghala Polo, that two friends ordered. It was cooked with fava beans and baby dill. My friends had no sense of gaminess themselves, so maybe my palate has gone primitive. I'm a lamb fanatic, so I'm not troubled by the ordinary, slight gaminess some people dislike.

Sufi's features a large number of kabobs cooked over the wood-fire oven's open flame. I've sampled three, including the filet mignon and ground beef served together as Soltani. I liked the ground beef far more than the filet mignon, which tasted overmarinated to a grainy texture. The kabob made out of ground chicken was my favorite, with a texture and taste like mild sausage.

I've ordered one dessert — Turkish-style baklava with its phyllo wrapped in strands of crispy wheat. Irresistible.

The restaurant has a small performance space. I asked one of the owners if there were any plans to hire a Whirling Dervish. He laughed and told me there was room for one at most. I have an awful feeling they may hire a belly dancer instead.

Deal of the Week

Get yourself to Goin' Coastal for dinner Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday. The restaurant in Virginia-Highland offers a lobster dinner for only $15 those nights. That includes a 1-lb., perfectly cooked Maine lobster with a bowl of slaw and a pile of shoestring fried potatoes.

The restaurant has also revised its menu and dropped prices of blackboard daily specials.

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