Caspian is a Persian restaurant new to Bellevue but not to the Greater Seattle community: The original was a U-District fixture for nearly two decades. Now brothers Shahriar and Shahram Gilandoost serve Persian stews, rice dishes and kabobs in a grandly furnished formal dining room hidden in a suburban business park surrounded by luxury-car dealers.
Most of what I know about Persian food I learned from my friend Elana, who was born in Abadan on the Persian Gulf. When she and her husband entertain at their home, they often serve the traditional dishes of her homeland.
Who better to join me, I thought, for dinner at Caspian, a Persian restaurant new to Bellevue but not to the Greater Seattle community. The original was a U-District fixture for nearly two decades in a space that is now home to another Persian restaurant, Persepolis.
The owners are two courtly brothers, Shahriar and Shahram Gilandoost, who supervise Caspian’s grandly furnished formal dining room buried in a business park surrounded by luxury-car dealers. Families gather around faux-granite tables in multigenerational groups that generally include at least one madar bozorg (grandma) and a few adorable children.
Caspian’s menu reflects the homestyle cooking of the region. Most dishes are served family-style. “It’s the way we used to eat everyday,” said Elana, who recalls coming home from school for a big lunch of stews, rice and kabobs, then for dinner having more of the same, but made with different ingredients.
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Elana makes the best Fesenjan I’ve ever tasted, but Caspian’s version of this chicken stew comes close. Threads of tender meat are submerged in an earthy, walnut-thickened sauce, tart with pomegranate molasses. Beef bolsters Ghormeh Sabzi, but that tangy, delicious stew is mainly a dark-green sea of spinach, herbs and onion, dotted with red beans.
Kabobs are composed of beef, poultry or lamb. Whole, broiled Roma tomatoes stand sentinel over platters of these grill-charred morsels, aligned in tidy rows in a gathering pool of their own marinade-enhanced juices mingled with a squirt of lemon.
The front-runner among the meats was Koobideh, zestily seasoned ground beef and onion molded to skewers and grilled. Cornish hen was a close second. The dainty, dismembered bird was lightly blackened, terrifically moist and tasted of saffron and garlic. Chicken thighs and lamb loin were supple and flavorful too, the cubed lamb interspersed with onion and green pepper. Sirloin strips (Barg), cooked well past medium and tough to chew, finished last.
White basmati rice overlaid with yellow, saffron-soaked grains accompanies stews and kabobs. Don’t let that stop you from trying some of the other mixed-rice dishes, especially Sweet Rice, the same fluffy saffron rice gorgeously arrayed with slivered almonds, pistachios, and julienne carrot and orange peel candied in rose-water syrup.
Tah Deeg is an alluring rice dish made with crusty shards, browned and crisped in butter, scraped from the bottom of the pan. It’s offered as an appetizer, though it’s quite filling given that it’s topped with your choice of Ghormeh Sabzi or Ghimeh, a gentle stew of beef, yellow peas and tomato.
Spreads and dips, scooped with lavash, the paper thin flatbread, make great starters. Try Mirza Ghasemi, a smoky eggplant purée that resembles tomato-y baba ghanoush, or Kashk Bademjan, a mash of fried eggplant and onion wearing a drizzle of cheesy whey and a dollop of pungent dried mint sautéed in oil. Must O Mooseer, a tart, house-made yogurt lively with shallot, doubled as a condiment for the kabobs.
Persian meals traditionally begin with a plate of raw onion and fresh herbs (tarragon, chives, mint and basil) meant to be eaten wrapped in lavash. Caspian provides a complimentary salad, too. That dispiriting assemblage of tired lettuce overburdened with balsamic vinaigrette was markedly improved by a dose of ground sumac from the shaker on the table.
Conclude your meal with traditional sweets: saffron and pistachio ice cream; superb baklava; and faloodeh, a sort of Persian shave ice made with vermicelli rice noodles in a sweet, semi-frozen, rose-water slurry. Sometimes they have Zoolbia and Bamieh, delightful squiggles and balls of fried dough soaked in honey.
You won’t find Doogh on the drinks menu, but if you ask for that fizzy, iced blend of yogurt and mint, they’ll make it. Elana contentedly drained her glass. The rest of us preferred pinot noir.
Providence Cicero, Seattle Times restaurant critic, co-hosts “Let’s Eat” with Terry Jaymes at 4 p.m. Saturdays on 97.3 KIRO FM. Listen to past shows at www.KIRORadio.com/letseat. Reach Cicero at email@example.com.