Worth finding 

Kabul is one of our better ethnic eateries

Kabul is one of our better ethnic eateries
Kabul (the restaurant, not the city) must be one of the most unfortunately-located eateries in town, in the sense that it’s very hard to find, unless you know exactly where it is. Like so many of the restaurants concentrated around the intersection of 86th and Ditch, it doesn’t face the street, and you can drive around for quite a while in ever diminishing circles until you stumble across what appears to be a disused bank building. In fact, I could swear that, when I first visited this restaurant some 10 years ago, it was in a location about 400 yards to the west, tucked away in a dark and obscure strip mall. Whether or not this is true, or merely the sign of my own failing and deluded memory, cannot be verified at this point. What I can assert quite accurately, however, is that Kabul always appears, from the outside at any rate, to be closed, so don’t let this deter you from giving the door a good shove when you decide to pay them a visit. (As it happens, the restaurant will be closed from July 4 for a few days, so plan accordingly.) Things seem to have been a little quiet around Kabul for some time, which is unfortunate, as independent restaurateurs need all the help they can get right now, regardless of ethnicity. It might be sweepingly general to say this, but I suspect that many of the people who are staying away in droves might be the same people who won’t buy French wines in the misguided belief that French winemakers have the power to influence their government’s foreign policy. If only that were the case; what a better world it would be. Actually, on second thought, when you consider how French farmers treat shipments of foreign (live) sheep, perhaps that wouldn’t be such a great idea. Anyway, that’s all another story. The point is, though, I don’t see that the average Afghani restaurateur in exile is going to have much influence on his former, unelected government’s domestic policy, so I think we should all give these guys a break and let our knives and forks do the talking. Just to refine the point, this restaurant serves alcohol, which establishes it firmly in the progressive-liberal camp, and makes it even more worthy of our support. Having located the restaurant (via GPS) in the southwest quadrant of 86th and Ditch, and having parked your steed without, you can approach the front door and make your entrance. Once inside, you will be greeted in a typically hospitable fashion, and will be taken to the table of your choosing in the roomy but sparsely-decorated dining room. With plenty of space between tables, this is the perfect place to get away from it all for that cozy, romantic dinner, without any sense of being crowded or rushed. As with so many of the city’s better ethnic eateries, at Kabul you’ll find the service friendly and informal, compensating with enthusiasm for what it might lack in polished professionalism. In addition, and much to its credit, the food comes out hot and in a timely fashion. These days, that might be all it takes to recommend a restaurant to me, such is the dire state of things at so many establishments. As for the aforementioned selection of alcoholic drinks, Kabul offers a limited wine list, dominated by disproportionately-priced offerings from California. Cuisine like this really needs to exploit some of the spicier offerings from the Mediterranean, especially from southern France (Boo!) or southern Spain (Hurrah!), whose brightly fruited reds are perfectly matched to north African or Middle Eastern foodstuffs. My dining companions, Chef Richard and Amy-Lynn, and I stuck to sparkling wine throughout our meal for want of a more appropriate selection. When in doubt, always order fizz. In addition, Kabul also offers a good selection of traditional teas, which might be the wiser, and certainly less expensive, way to go. Afghan cuisine has much in common with that of Pakistan and northern India, especially Kashmir. Making use of lamb and chicken, as well as a lot of vegetables and rice, dishes typically are not as hot and fiery as one might expect, but tend to be mild and delightfully fragrant. Garam masala (a proprietary blend made principally from cardamom, cloves, cumin, cinnamon and coriander) is a central ingredient in many of the sauces, producing full, rounded and persistent flavors. Long, slow cooking is the order of the day here, taking tough, cheap cuts of meat and turning them into rich aromatic dishes which might then be served on a bed of steamed basmati rice with a piece of naan bread on the side. Yogurt also makes regular appearances: Here it’s plain old regular cow’s milk yogurt, but I’m sure that in Afghanistan much use is made of goat’s milk. Appetizers, all in the $4 to $5 range, are worth a try. Note, however, that some of the appetizers are later duplicated as main courses, so you might want to choose carefully to avoid eating the same dish twice. On a recent visit, we enjoyed the Sambosa, a bit like an Indian Samosa, being a savory pastry concoction stuffed with spiced beef and onions. Also excellent was the Aushak, a traditional dumpling stuffed with leeks and topped with a yogurt and beef sauce, seasoned with mint. Again good, but I’m not sure how authentic, was a dish of sautéed mushrooms cooked with peppers and cilantro. Although the appetizers are certainly worth a try, don’t overdo it, because the main courses are a meal in their own right. Each is served with a salad or soup, as well as a generous serving of rice and naan bread. The salads are pretty mundane, so I recommend the beef, vegetable and noodle soup, unless you happen to be vegetarian. Outstanding on the entrée menu are the various kebabs ($15 to $17) and the delightfully fragrant Kurma Pallow, a dish reminiscent of Kashmiri lamb stew, only available here with a choice of chicken, lamb or beef. The sauce, which is onion and tomato-based, is wonderfully aromatic and gently spicy, blending perfectly with the saffron-scented basmati rice. If in doubt, you can always order a combination plate and try a bit of everything for $16.95. Desserts are solid, but not essential. Hear Neil Charles each Friday morning at 9 on WXNT-AM, 1430.
8553 Ditch Road 257-1213 Dinner Tuesday - Thursday 5:30-9:30 Friday - Saturday 5:30-10:30 Food : 3 stars Atmosphere : 2 stars Service : 2 1/2 stars

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