Cafe Sophia in Palo Alto for Afghan?
Passing through Palo Alto today, I noticed sandwich boards promoting Cafe Sophia for Afghan food. It's on Middlefield Road, near and across from the stretch where Long's and Safe way are.
I came across your post at an auspicious hour and decided to conduct some suppertime reconaissance. Cafe Sophia is a brightly lit and spacious coffee shop (with free wi-fi) with little bistro-style tables and a long menu (http://www.cafesophia.com/prod01.htm ). I ordered a chicken kabob, a side of kadu, and a hot tea.
I should preface by saying I almost exclusively east Afghan food at Kabul in Sunnyvale, although I have been to The Helmand in SF a couple of times. Therefore, any differences I note are related more to my expectations and enjoyment than to any judgment as to correctness or authenticity.
I went up to the counter to choose among the wide variety of teabags and ended up with a pot of tea but no cup. After about 10 minutes, no one had noticed or brought my water, so I asked the barista/cashier for a cup.
Food arrived after perhaps 15-20 minutes. There was an ample supply of chicken breast chunks for the price, but I surprised by its bright red color, reminiscent of tandoori chicken. The outside of the meat offered surprising resistance to the supplied butter knife, but the inside was moist and tender and overall the meat was very good.
Two kinds of rice filled the majority of the plate. One was a very pale yellow rice with a dash of tiny caraway seeds, and a couple tablespoons of bright red grains of rice on top. The other mound was dark and had an intriguing scent and mildly spiced taste. Some of the grains were burnt or stuck together; I've had something like this style of rice in Persian restaurants, so it didn't seem out of place here, although I found it far too oily.
Along the far edge of the plate was a salad of green leaf lettuce, feta cheese, walnuts, and suspiciously square pieces of tomato. The salad was not dressed, but a bottle of a vinegary cilanto (?) sauce was supplied as a condiment, and after a good deal of vigorous shaking, the salad was no longer naked. Although I usually don't like raw almonds or feta cheese, for some reason it all seemed to work pretty well with the other strong flavors on the plate. (The bread was rubbery and forgettable.)
The side of kadu was not at all what I expected. In addition to pumpkin stewed with, I believe, onions, the kitchen had dribbled sun dried tomatoes in some kind of marinade on top. The menu specified fresh tomatoes, and I think that would have harmonized much better. The yogurt sauce also was heavily dusted with a dried herb (perhaps tarragon? oregano?) which overpowered the other flavors. I realize that the candy-like kadu at many other places may have confused me into thinking kadu was simply a sweet (or sometimes a sweet alla Bolognese), but this dish seemed to have been completely improvised by people who assumed that if it looked approximately right it was good enough for me.
The disorganization continued after plates were cleared. When the check hadn't arrived for 10-15 minutes, I headed up to the counter to pay. My slip wasn't available, so I relayed my order back for totalling. Sigh.
Judging from the chicken, they do seem to know how to grill, so I think I might return to try the lamb. I hope the service is quicker at lunchtime!
I've been to Cafe Sophia several times now and I have to say I LOVE it. Great food, great ambiance and phenomenal value.
I haven't been there for lunch, though, so I can't comment on the service. It's been fine the 3-4 times I've been there.