3.15.2005

The Helmand and Amazon in the restaurant biz

helmand

When my sister suggested we check out this Afghan restaurant in Cambridge, I was all for it. I'd never tried Afghan food before, though I am a big fan of the cuisines of countries surrounding Afghanistan.

My sis was vague in her initial email so I did a brief google search for Afghan restaurants in Cambridge and came up with this link at the top of the results. I am both excited and confused to find Amazon scanning in menus and making them available on the web. Excited because I got to study the menu in advance and refer back to it later, confused because I can't figure out what Amazon is getting out of the deal. I guess they figure they got you to the site, maybe soon they'll be giving you suggestion of what to buy based on what restaurants you eat at. I did like the handy link to driving directions from Mapquest.

When sis and I confirmed the place, she mentioned the brother of the president of Afghanistan is the owner. No political celebrity sightings, though.


The food:

was wonderful. We lucked out and got a seat right away, though the hostess told us up front we could only have it for an hour and a half. Our waiter was great, attentive but not pushy, even fought off a crazy demanding lady to give us decent service.

We ordered a Riesling, though in hindsight this wasn't the best choice. The food turned out to be fairly sweet, and the wine was verry sweet - a medium red would've done well. Although we didn't really know what the food would be like upfront, so we were just guessing. Their wine list is pretty good - enough variety to please most people's tastes, and a good variety of prices to boot.

Bread was brought right away, along with three sauces. The bread was a bit like foccacia, a little thinner, but with the same general flavor, texture, and look. Yogurt sauce with mint and lemon, a red pepper sauce with some balsamic vinegar and honey, and what my sister dubbed "Afghan salsa." It contained cilantro and hot peppers, but had a deliciously definitely Indian flavor to it.

Our entrees were all fabulous. I had the vegetarian special, which was a bit of a sampler plate: baked pumpkin, pan-fried eggplant, spinach, okra with tomatoes, and rice. I adored every bite. I would eat eggplant everyday if it was flavored like that. Spinach, too. It was creamy but not creamed with dairy. B's lamb was so tender it melted in my mouth. Words to describe the flavors aren't coming. Well seasoned, Middle Eastern but definitely Indian, too.

In fact, the whole menu reflected the effect of the physical location of Afghanistan, with such things as kourma and koufta alongside curried cauliflower. There was plenty of lamb, plenty of chickpeas and lentils, and a whole lotta pumpkin. I love pumpkin.

Our desserts were fabulous, especially my bucklawa (baklava) which was heavy on the rosewater, cardamom, and pistachios. And wonderfully, they offered Turkish coffee.

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