First, I’d like to give a shout out to my friends who not only introduce me to top notch restaurants such as the one I am about to tell you about, but also for accompanying me and making my dining experiences that much more enjoyable with your presence. I appreciate your exploratory nature, matched with mine, and your fearlessness of trying what might be considered exotic.
I had my first ever experience with Afghani cuisine yesterday at Shish Kabob House of Afghanistan and I am very glad that I did. I honestly was not sure what to expect but was pleasantly surprised all the way through.
The table started with a shared appetizer of Mantoo which were steamed dumplings filled with mildly spiced meat and onions topped with yellow split peas and a special sauce of homemade yogurt, with mint and garlic. I have to confess, when this arrived I was a little put off by the smell. It was unfamiliar, and almost raunchy smelling, but the waitress had assured us that it was one of the most popular appetizers so I was more than willing to give it a try. It was love at first bite! (Isn’t it amazing how things that can smell so bad can taste so good?). The “skin” of the dumpling was very delicate and tender, with an almost fall-apart-in-your mouth quality. The filling was perfectly seasoned, mild but not boring – and the yogurt sauce gave it this tangy deliciousness that went so well with the flavor combination of the seasoned meat, the herbs, the garlic and mint…mmm.
For the main, I had the Beef Shammi Kebab which was “ground beef seasoned with mixed spices. When ordered freshly chopped scallions are infused into the meat giving it an assertive taste and charbroiled on skewers, ” (from the menu). This came with your choice of either spinach or brown rice, and choice of a side. I had spinach rice and the eggplant. While the beef was definitely good, it took a backseat to the eggplant which deserves a “holy yum”! The eggplant is “sliced and steamed, fried and topped with tomato sauce, homemade yogurt and dry mint”… I couldn’t get enough of this stuff. I was also interested in trying the other sides. Lucky for me, two of my dining companions had the pumpkin and I took one taste each from their plates (it was THAT good). It was actually a pumpkin puree, garlicky and creamy, with the consistency of mashed butternut squash. Because I probably should mention it, the spinach rice was good. It didn’t taste much like spinach but it was basmati rice with flecks of green and merely served as background noise for the rest of the stuff on the plate.
When your flawless meal ends on a high note, it gives you a feeling of satisfaction similar to how you’d feel after reading the perfect ending of a good book. This was the case when my meal concluded with the Ice Cream Afghani Style, which is vanilla ice cream flavored with rosewater with pistachios and what appeared to be chopped dates sprinkled over it. It was such a hit – just the right amount of rosewater to take the spotlight, but not too much as to overwhelm, with the textural components of creamy, silky ice cream paired with the chopped pistachios and nuts. I honestly can’t wait until the next time I have this again.
Also noteworthy about the restaurant is the decor, ambiance, and atmosphere. When I first walked in I was struck by the beauty inside. It has this simple elegance, which I love, decorated with Afghan art, beautiful lights, and traditional pieces. When we were there yesterday there were two men playing Afghan music which added a very nice element to the dining experience.
I should note that there was one thing I did not love about this restaurant, but it was very insignificant compared to the rest of the experience so I didn’t factor it into my overall assessment. Do not order the ginger ale. The server will tell you they have ginger ale but what she will give you is something that tastes like a mix of Sprite and iced tea. Instead, go for a Taj Mahal, a light Indian beer that is crisp and refreshing and paired very well with the heavier food.
Overall, it was one of the most enjoyable dining experiences I’ve had in a long time. To give you an idea of how much I liked the food, I left the restaurant at 10:30p, went home, and ate the leftovers at midnight.
36 LaSalle Road
West Hartford, CT