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Caspian Persian Grill/ Plantation
Even the best of culinary risk-takers might have their confidence a bit shaken trying to pronounce the menu items at Caspian Persian Grill: koobideh, aash-e reshteh, bademjan, joojeh kabobo and doogh abali, to name just a few. The good news for inhibited menu pointers is that you can comfortably acquiesce to the congenial wait staff, a group more than happy to supply recommendations and tips on what's what and how to order this wonderful sector of Middle Eastern cuisine that's as colorful and complex as the pattern in a hand-made Persian carpet.
While Persian cuisine seems oddly exotic at first, it's basically simple. Meals begin with bread (warm squares of soft lavosh), and a number of small bowls filled with appetizers and condiments called mokhalaft. My favorite is a combination plate ($7.95) that looks like an artist's palette. The puddles of color include dolmeh (small rounded bundles of grape leaves stuffed with basmati rice, fresh dill, parsley and yellow split peas, napped in fresh yogurt), kashkeh bademjan (pureed eggplant and garlic with yogurt and mint, capped by fried onions and whey dressing, much like babaganoush) and hummus (chickpea puree enhanced by rich tahini, garlic, olive oil, lemon juice and spices.) The small shaker jar on every table is sumac, a tart spice middle easterners sprinkle on meats and rice.
If you don't try any other soup on the menu, do order traditional aash-e reshteh. Just $5.95 delivers a huge bowl filled with chopped parsley, spinach, chives and cilantro simmered with garbanzo and kidney beans, lentils and Persian flour noodles, adorned with a dollop of whey, saut¿ onions and fresh mint. This filling soup is delightful.
For entrees, meats, chicken and fish are usually either grilled or stewed, and just about everything is served with fragrant basmati rice mixed with a variety of other ingredients. Most menu items are also available as side orders, so you can sample as many different kinds of rice ($2.95-$3.95) and kabobs ($2.95-11.95) as your wallet can handle. Try the green-tinged dill rice (lots of chopped fresh dill and lima beans), tart cherry rice or plain basmati topped with translucent soft ruby red seeds we would have bet money were pomegranate seeds, but our server said were barberries.
Aficionados of kabobs (marinated meat, chicken or fish, skewered and cooked over open flames) will delight in the 11 kabob lineup ($7.95-$16.95), including cornish hens, lamb, salmon, beef tenderloin, ground beef, chicken breast and straight veggies. The effects of the bracing marinades so deliciously invade their protein companions there's no need for further seasoning. Macerations include saffron, onion and lime juice, olive oil and yogurt or saffron, olive oil and spices.
Every kabob sampled at our table was excellent -- expertly grilled and full-flavored, lined up like long meaty chorus lines -- sans the skewer, yet in perfect alignment.
It's a sly hint of pomegranates that sweetly seduces boneless white meat chicken into a passionate partner for the interesting texture of ground walnuts in khoresht e' fessenjan ($9.95), a Persian stew that's eyelid-shutting good in its unique velvetiness. It's one of five stews ($7.95-$11.95) traditionally cooked in heavy cast iron pots.
Don't deny yourself dessert. Noodle sorbet and saffron-infused ice cream are winners.
The sorbet falloudeh ($3.95) is two snowy white icy mounds intriguingly textured by soft, chewy rice stick noodles, garnished with mesmerizing rosewater. What takes this to even more exotic heights is a dousing with one or both liquids in two accompanying carafes: tart cherry syrup and an explosive lemon juice that's likable in a tonsil-puckering sort of way. It's like the most interesting snow cone you've ever had.
The ice cream ($3.95) is made on premises, vanilla empowered by the union of pistachios, saffron, rosewater and a squirt of tart cherry syrup. If Omar Khayyam could take you to dinner, my bet is this is where he'd love to bring you.