- bacchante Apr 13, 2006 01:39 PM
Tom's Weekly Dish in yesterday's Post reminded me to post on a lunch here a week or so ago.
It is a white tablecloth restaurant with pretty much white tablecloth prices. A mixed kabob platter at lunch is $15 and $18 at dinner. The waiter said that portions at dinner are larger. However, lunch portions are definitely large enough for us, even though we share one between us.
We had aushak, scallion-filled dumplings with meat sauce; sambosay goshti, fried pastry stuffed with beef; mixed kabob platter, chicken shami, and lamb chunks; a side skewer of broiled veg's for $3; and a side order of kadu, pumpkin. We thought everything was significantly better than at Panshijir, including the rice and bread. It's been a few years since I've been to the place in Bethesda, so I can't compare. The food wasn't greasy, as it frequently is at Panshijir, and the spicing and flavors was more complex and subtle. My only criticism is the lamb chunks, which didn't appear to be marinated and were cooked to medium well and thus a bit dry.
I say it's worth a try if you want Afghan food, and we intend to go back and try the mantu and baunjuan that Sietsema mentioned, as well as the sambosa and one of the stewed meats.
Thanks for your post. It's definitely high on my list now. I never thought much about Panshjir: vegetables are too sweet.
I am still at a loss from the closing of Kabul Caravan (used to be near Guajillo). Faryab in Bethesda is almost every bit as good - but it's also quite a hike.
I also like the Bamian. (I also like Panjshir.) I think the firnee at Bamian is better than at Panjshir; I think Panjshir does a better job with Aush. Prices are better at Panjshir; ambiance is classier at Bamian. I worry that Bamian may not last: it is situated in a bad-luck building (nothing there seems to last very long); also, it is probably too large for an ethnic specialty restaurant.
Advice: try it soon. It's definitely worth the try.
Finally got to Bamian. It's a good address to know for NoVa Afghan food.
The starters are all high quality - mantu, aushak, buranee - though the buranee here is more like a potato knish than the wonderful caramelized onion and potato flatbread at Faryab in Bethesda.
Vegetables are a strong suit. The pumpkin here is in very large chunks - the larger the better as far as I'm concerned. Eggplant is subtly spiced. Only the spinach is completely drab.
I consider kabobs to be like french fries: a thing of temporal beauty. One moment they are all juicy, and crispy, the next moment dry chunks of dead animal. We were served two kinds of beef, chunks and sliced steak. Both were dry and worthless. The kibbe was completely below par, not juicy, not well spiced. The heavily marinated chicken worked very well, but where was even the hint of char? Are they cooking these things on high enough heat? The lamb chops were the best.
On the side was an exceptional hot green pepper sauce that had a pickled taste to it as well - like a cross between salsa verde and torshi. I could and did eat this straight. Rice, normally a strong suit in that part of the world was served a bit wet and tasteless. Fortunately they also served a cinnamon fragrant meat sauce that you could pour over the rice. I'm not sure how this is listed on the menu, but it is certainly worth ordering.
I will definitely return for the pumpkin, eggplant, the mantu, and judging from the meat sauce, I will go for aush next time, the Afghan soup (beef, yoghurt, mint) which is a real test of an Afghan kitchen.
Interesting that you found the kebobs pretty bad. On our April visit, we found the kebobs pretty much as you describe: lamb chunks overcooked and dry; chicken chunks very tasty but without char; and ok shami kebab.
We went for lunch today and again had the same experience. We had a Bamian platter with lamb, chicken, and shami kebabs, with the kebobs pretty much as before. Better ones are available elsewhere.
Nonetheless, there is still much to like there. We had mantu (meat-stuffed dumplings with meat sauce) and bulanee (baked pastry)stuffed with potato for starters, and a side of bouranee (eggplant). The mantu was excellent, as good as the aushak we had on the first visit. This was expected, since the only difference is that aushak is stuffed with scallions. The bulanee was good, but I suspect I would have preferred the leek stuffing, which is another option. The eggplant also was excellent. The platter came with 2 kinds of rice, plain and seasoned with carrots and raisins. Both were very good and were accompanied with the meat sauce that is called qurma on the menu. It is more like a stew with big chunks of meat in a redish sauce, something like the Greek stifatho or giouvetsi than a meat sauce found in red sauce Italian restaurants. The meat was either beef or else lamb with absolutely no fat in it to give it a lamby flavor. Either way, it was pretty good and very meaty.
A lot of steaming aush comes out of the kitchen, but I'm definitely not in the mood for hot soup in the summer. Besides, I prefer to have the same flavors in the form of aushak. I'm thinking that the best entrees to get are probably the palaus, given that the chef appears to like cooking meats to verrrry well done.
A return to Bamian after a few months found this restaurant worse off than a previous trip. Such a beautiful space, some great private tables. I so much wanted to like it, but I cannot stomach paying for ambience.
The lamb chops that I liked on a previous visit were powerfully salty. I sent them back, but the new batch had the same problem. Shami kabob spicing was a bit off, and also was not juicy, same as a previous trip. Pumpkin was sweeter than last time, a definite downer. Meat sauce was still good, but not as aromatic as first visit. I can't see returning here.
You're writing it off after one bad meal?
Sounds like someone different handling the kitchen that night. It would at least be worth an chat with the manager to find out if there have been some changes since your last visit. I've only been there twice, last time was maybe 2 months ago, and the second time was better than the first. I'd be disappointed if the cooking has gone down hill.
You do seem to visit a whole lot of restaurants, so I can understand that you'd be more justified than I in writing off one that's slipped because there will be plenty of others. But Bamian's isn't complex cooking (at least it doesn't seem that way - I've never tried Afghan spicing at home) and it doesn't seem like it would be all that hard to do it right.
>>You're writing it off after one bad meal? <<
Hmmm....I actually wrote it off after my first meal. I think Steve and La Bacchante (whose opinions about food I respect a lot) were much too kind. The food was average at best--and some was a lot worse--and there are plenty of other better Afghan or kebab places at much more reasonable prices.
re: Jim Zurer
I organized the lunch that you are referring to. There were eight of us at the table and you and Steve were the only ones who did not like it. Most of us were critical of the kebobs but raved about virtually every other dish. I agree that there are better kebobs at Moby'd, Shamshiry, etc. But Bamian is absolutely outstanding for its vegetables and most of the apps as well as its meat sauce and the "green relish." (Sorry, but I forgot its name.) At this point it has been four months so much could have changed. But I clearly remember that lunch and leaving shaking my head that you reacted as you did, especially since I have so much respect for your opinions. I do believe that the price factored heavily into your opinions.
I should add that my wife has left the table shaking her head wondering about MY opinions!
re: Joe H
>>But Bamian is absolutely outstanding for its vegetables and most of the apps as well as its meat sauce and the "green relish."<<
We will just have to agree to disagree on this one.....I have been going to Afghan restaurants for many years--going back to the original Bamiyan in Georgetown in the 1970s--and...to my taste...this place just didn't measure up.
Sorry if I sounded harsh. Your point is well taken. The problem is: my first meal was mixed (see post above), vegetables good and appetizers good, kabobs not worth much.
My second visit the kabobs again were a letdown, but so was everything else. I guess I felt stung because we wound up spending downtown DC prices for a wan meal. Even the green sauce completely lost its kick.
I'm sorry to hear this. We haven't been for a couple of months. After last summer's experience, we had written off the kabobs but we still liked the aushak, mantu, bulanee, eggplant and pumpkin dishes, as well as the meat sauce. I think the sweetness of pumpkin dishes may vary with the sweetness of the pumpkin itself, so I would be inclined to try that dish again. Did you happen to try the aushak, mantu, or eggplant? If they're downhill, that's it...