Restaurant Review - No illusion

Mirage's khoresht, kabobs and rice dishes are real Persian

The next time the heat and the traffic start getting to you, before pollen and road rage become an issue, you might want to step into cool, calm Mirage and become cool and calm yourself — not to mention well-fed.

Mirage is even more low-key than the other Persian restaurants strung along Roswell Road. No kitsch here, just a low-lit, mid-size dining room painted a soothing, elegant pearl gray. Or maybe that's pale taupe; the color appears to change as the sun moves across the windows of the strip shopping center location. What does not change here are the generous portions of food and the willingness of the staff to share the nuances of their native cuisine.

I love to listen to the owner's recitation of the herbs and spices perfuming his stews and rices. I follow his instructions for optimal enjoyment of such tangy tidbits as the house yogurt studded with diced cucumber. This is as straightforward as it gets with the appetizers. Nearly everything else is a grand medley of sweet and sour edginess embedded in textures that are both visually appealing and fun to eat. A combination of onions, rice and raisins wrapped in grape leaves, for example.

Most interesting to me is how often the same ingredients can produce so many different tastes depending on the herbs and cooking method employed. Eggplant, which I find virtually inedible most of the time — either too bitter or too rubbery — is transformed by braising or roasting. Laced with mint in one dish, garlic in the next, egg and tomatoes in a third, eggplant becomes a treat instead of a penance for vegetarians.

Vegetarians, by the way, will be in heaven here, presented daily with four rice, kabob or stew variations. But everyone should try at least one of the aromatic basmati rice dishes. Whether studded with lima beans, green beans, lentils, barberries or sour cherries, the delicate basmati grains shine through.

If you are accustomed to bland stews, you may need to acquire a taste for Mirage's Persian variations. They are so intensely flavored that what appears to be a small portion is actually plenty to share. The stews, or khoresht, are not your ordinary chunks of meat swimming in gravy. They are, instead, blends of meat, fruits, nuts and vegetables. No. 33, a beef and potato khoresht, includes onions, split peas, fried potatoes and sun-dried Persian limes. No. 36 blends cubed sirloin with celery, parsley and mint.

The lunch menu concentrates on Mirage's tantalizing charbroiled kabobs: ground sirloin with onion; strips of filet mignon; marinated lamb; chunks of chicken; or vegetables, naturally fragrant and delectable, thanks to grilling. Along with this comes a lovely tomato-based vegetable soup that tastes quite mild at the first spoonful, then explodes with peppery heat later.??