Friday, February 02, 2007
It is not in a great location. It sits at 1635 A Street, smack dab in the middle of a run down, anonymous strip mall between a Vietnamnese staffed nail salon and an anachronistic barber shop where the staff wear uniforms that are half military/half clinical technician.
I walk in at four p.m. for dinner. Of course, I am the only customer. At the far corner table sat a pair of young grandparents (the owners, I presume) and their granddaughter. They are watching her while her parents work. She is mesmerized by a Bollywood-style musical playing loudly on the big screen TV.
The grandmother and I chit chat. She does not recognize me as a regular so we talk about the menu and the restaurant. I put in my order and ask for a glass of water. She suggests the hot green tea. I comply.
Several pieces of homemade bread are offered with butter, a red chili sauce, and a mint chutney. Both the chili sauce and chutney were wonderful, but I found the bread too dry. I do not know if that is how it is supposed to taste.
I start off with the aushak appetizer. It is a stuffed pasta with sauce on top-- a cousin of the Italian ravioli, the Chinese jiaozi, and all the different local interpretations in between the two lands along the Silk Road. The pasta, which is a little too much on the wet/limp/overcooked side, is stuffed with leeks, scallions, and mystery herbs. The pasta is served, nee smothered, with a sauce consisting of tomato, tiny fine bits of ground beef, yogurt, and mint. Each bite was better than the last. I loved it. I was amazed by the portions. This $3.95 starter could easily be a meal for two light eaters.
Throughout the meal, I sip the green tea. Although the tea comes from a pre-packaged tea bag, it was a perfect pairing with the meal.
Then came the lamb kebab. Without hyperbole, it was the best lamb and best kebab I have had in a long time, if not ever. Eight large chunks of medium well lamb sat on my plate. Each chunk took two to three bites to finish. As I speared the meat with my fork, the natural juices flowed out. The lamb was extremely fresh, moist, tender, and perfectly cooked. But the secret is the sumac, a red spice with a sour taste, often used in Middle Eastern and Central Asian cooking, that coated the lamb.
The basmati rice served alongside was a story in itself. Because the owner knew I was new, she gave me both varieties of basmati rice on the side. One half was yellow, saffron infused. The other half was of the brown variety, probably cooked with beef stock. Both were light, fluffy, and yet satisfying. They were very filling.
The entree was completed with a side of salad-- unremarkable, supermarket-grade lettuce, tomato, and a ranch-like dressing.
Obviously, the kebab is the attraction here. But diners should not support this family restaurant just because of the quality of the food. They should support it because it opens doors to another world, another culture, in a town of corporate, franchised mediocrity.