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From Persia to Memphis


Esfandiar Mirghahari, or S.C. as he is called, has opened Caspian, the first Persian restaurant in Memphis. Caspian offers foods from Mirghahari's birthplace of Iran, which was the center of power for the Persian Empire dating back to the sixth century B.C. At 31, he's too young to remember his country before it became officially known as the Islamic Republic of Iran in 1979, but Mirghahari still identifies with his Persian ancestors. This restaurant is a symbol of that heritage.

When his family moved to Memphis in 1991, the Persian community was small. But now, according to Mirghahari, there are about 2,500 people of Iranian descent living in Memphis. The idea for Caspian came to him when he was attending a gathering of Persian men with his father.

"We were talking about how there's no place to get Persian food here," he says. "It's difficult to prepare Persian food at home, so most people would have to drive to Atlanta or St. Louis to go to a Persian restaurant."

Mirghahari modeled Caspian after restaurants he had known growing up in California and New Jersey. He traveled home to Iran in April to bring back items to transform the space, a former printing shop on Brookhaven Circle. He bought crystal chandeliers to compliment the elegant dining room, and he decorated the walls with photos and prints from Iran.

"I got the name from a friend who owns a restaurant in California named Caspian," he says. "I wanted something unique and even planned to name it Persepolis [after the ancient city which is featured on the cover of the menu]. But my friend suggested Caspian because anything else would be hard to pronounce."

The menu features stews and skewered cuts of chicken and filets. Many items are served with basmati rice, which is prepared using cilantro, mint, dill, and other herbs. Though all of the items are traditional Persian dishes, Mirghahari did have to make some substitutions.

"With the exception of the lamb shank, I use beef instead of lamb," he says. "In my country, they use lamb because beef is very hard to find. And here lamb is hard to come by, and a lot of people don't like the taste because it's so different."

Persian food features ingredients from the ancient empire that once spread from Greece to Pakistan. It incorporates a number of fresh ingredients and herbs such as grape leaves, pomegranates, mint, basil, and saffron.

"It's difficult to describe Persian food to someone who hasn't tried it before," Mirghahari says. "You have to try it to understand."

The restaurant's hours are 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and until 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

Caspian, 715 Brookhaven Circle (767-3134)

Bluefin will host a Spanish-wine dinner at 7 p.m. Thursday, September 29th. The six-course menu will feature tomato gazpacho with lobster avocado salsa, Spanish-inspired sushi, chorizo, ancho coffee-dusted beef tenderloin, and stuffed pork chops. The dishes will be paired with Spanish wines. The cost is $60 per person. Call 528-1010 for reservations.

Bluefin, 135 S. Main

Folk's Folly Prime Steakhouse will host a dinner featuring the wines of Peju Province Winery, located in Napa Valley on Monday, October 3rd. Peju's sales manager, Gary Vierra, will be on-hand to discuss the wines.

The dinner, prepared by Chef Javier Lopez, will include barbecue shrimp, rosemary biscuits, a mixed-green salad with fruit and sweet peppers served with a rosemary vinaigrette, a Tuscan-style Kansas City strip, roasted-garlic potato casserole, and a warm lemon rice custard. A Peju wine will accompany each dish.

Cost for the dinner is $75, and seating will be limited to 50. For reservations, call 762-8200.

Folk's Folly, 551 S. Mendenhall

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