Food & Drink

Review: Rumi's offers enough Persian parts to make a meal

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To check out Rumi's, I took along a friend whose ex was from Iran. He was in the habit of cooking stews in big quantities, she said, and his prowess in the kitchen was not a reason they broke up. She looked forward especially to scoring some fesenjon, a thick stew made with ground walnuts and pomegranate juice.

At first glance, Rumi's menu seems to downplay the "Persian" in its name in favor of the "Mediterranean." (Present-day Iran is nowhere near that sea, in case you're wondering.) It leads with the hummus, kabobs, kaftas, and shish tawook we're familiar with from scores of Lebanese places.

But then you notice unfamiliar appetizers like must-e-mouseer and tahdig, and that none of the stews are ghallaba. There's plenty to make many a meal solely from the Persian parts, which is what we did.

Turns out that the combination of walnuts and pomegranate juice produces a strong, bright, distinctive flavor that veers between sharp and sweet — and induced a wave of nostalgia in my friend. There's chicken in the dark stew, too, but you don't taste it. It's served with a giant helping of basmati rice, each grain discrete, and it was our favorite dish. It was also recommended by a neighboring diner who said, "My mom's Irani."

The hefty appetizer zeytoon parvardeh also uses pomegranate juice, this time with green olives, and you'll have to imagine the tartness of the pomegranate with the musty bitterness of the olives to get the effect. I found in my notes, "Complex. Sweet? Sour?"

Another appetizer with some sourness to it is kashk bademjoon, which is very like baba ghanouj but served warm and with a spoonful of kashk on top. The website Persian Mama says kashk is made by straining firm yogurt, drying it, and then reconstituting it (which sounds like a lot of work, if you have a fridge to keep your yogurt in). But what do I know? The bademjoon turns smokier as it cools, becoming more like baba ghanouj.

We weren't too thrilled with our lentil soup — a standout in most Mediterranean restaurants — as it was bland and a little thin. More interesting was a foamy, minty, salty yogurt drink called doogh, which my experienced friend said was perfect in summer. At Rumi's, you can get it by the pitcher.

There's no alcohol, but water comes with a welcome lime wedge rather than lemon, and if you google "Persian cuisine," you'll find a picture of tea in a clear handled glass exactly like the one we were brought at Rumi's. It came with a covered glass dish of sugar cubes; the traditional method is to put a cube on your tongue and let the tea flow through it.

Turning to more entrées, which are all generously sized, I was very happy with the only lamb dish on the menu. The big shank is super tender, cooked with some tomatoes and green peppers. It's served with baghali polo: basmati rice mixed with lima beans — the bane of my childhood, but rendered a different vegetable by Rumi's chef — firm rather than mealy.

I also liked gheimeh, which is velvety eggplant cooked with lots of tomatoes, split yellow peas, onion, and dried lime, the latter being another Persian touchstone that adds a twist of interest to the familiar flavors. I managed to hold off on trying the gheimeh till I unwrapped it at a potluck, where it was met with universal acclaim. Beef can be added, but I predict its flavor would get lost.

That happened with ghormeh sabzi, which includes kidney beans, spinach, dried limes, and lots of herbs. Persian Mama says, "I could honestly say not too many Persian stews can match the unanimous popularity of ghormeh sabzi," and a Rumi's server said it was one the Iranian regulars order most. That did not hold true at our table, where we found the dish smoky but mostly sour.

The menu on Rumi's website has more dish descriptions than the one you're handed at the restaurant, so you might want to study up in advance, or come prepared to ask questions. Or look at the fairly detailed descriptions provided by Farmington's (Hills) other Persian restaurant, Pars, noting that spellings vary: must-e-mouseer becomes maust-o-moosir. Rumi's is a newer, smaller, and less expensive place, though owner Naser Tagavi plans to knock down a wall and incorporate the space next door before Persian new year in March.

Rumi's is named after the 13th-century poet, and a non-Iranian server told me it was knowledge of that master that got her the job three years ago. If you become a regular, she said, it's the kind of place where she and the rest of the staff will remember what you like.