Monday, February 23, 2009

That Old Food Flame

Or "How the Ladies who Lunch Lost Their Lunch Spot."

My friend Natasha and I have lunch every week--we are truly ladies who lunch. Except unlike other ladies (a word impossible for me to say normally and without thinking of Tim Meadows as Leon Phelps, "the ladies man," on Saturday Night Live), we are not actually well-off, well-dressed, or old-monied--we just like to eat--together, if possible.

And for over a year, our lunch of choice was Madison's Caspian Cafe with its daily lunch specials and delicious, reasonably priced Persian food. Not to mention the plentiful vegetarian options as nearly everything came either meat or vegetarian, demarcated on the menu by tiny tomato icons. Tuesday was my favorite day: the dolmeh, but not the dolmeh you may be imagining. No, this dolmeh was an eggplant or green pepper stuffed with lentils, rice, and tomatoes. I also loved okra stew on Wednesdays and herb stew on Fridays. And if I wanted "the spicy" as co-owner Mir asked us once, we came on Monday for spicy cauliflower. The kuku sabzi sandwich was also hard to resist, available every day and a tempting diversion from the specials. We used to swear the food had crack in it because we craved it, needed a fix every week.

The owners, Mir and Mohila, were always happy to see us, and we them. Every week, it was CC, or "our place" as we called it for lunch. It's where I first learned that Natasha was pregnant and where we ate all through her pregnancy, usually by the window, crammed into the small table with our waters and sometimes, Persian tea. Where we ate our amazing Persian ice cream--saffron ice cream with rosewater and pistachios--and where we split a piece of baklava, never wanting to let lunch end.

And then in the fall of 2008 it closed. Out of the blue, at least to me. Mohila told me on a Tuesday that Friday would be their last day. They were moving to Florida to be near their daughter. And so we were left without our place, our home away from home. We're still looking for a new place. The lunches haven't stopped, but the sense of home and comfort that we felt at the Caspian Cafe is gone.

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