Helmand: A contrarian view
With all of the Helmand-praising around here over the past few years, I've got to submit my personal opinion on the matter.
The place is overrated and does not deliver the food that a restaurant of its atmosphere and price level should.
The menu needs to be edited. The dozens of menu items suffer from Taco Bell Recombinatorial Menu Syndrome- everything is pumpkin-meat-rice-something. It shouldn't be so difficult to figure out what the optimal configuration is.
The food comes out looking and tasting like boring hotel food. Like a fancy wedding with competent but boring caterers. The flavors don't jump, they don't surprise me... they're mellow and pleasant, and that's it. I wouldn't mind cooking this stuff up for dinner and maybe serving it to guests... but destination food this isn't. Plus, service is distant and sometimes incompetent (if I haven't finished my starter, don't stand there with the damn entree, waiting for me to quickly finish off my plate so you can take it away).
This might be a good place to take business associates or old folks or someone else that requires unoffensive food that's palatable to a chowhound. The downside is that it's loud in there, so important conversations might be lost.
I feel like if you're gonna eat ethnic food, go for the gusto. Eat somewhere with spice, somewhere exciting.
Anyone: where is the exciting Afghan food in Boston? I like to make Afghan dishes at home, and I have been to a couple good places in NYC...
And I wish they'd find a better house wine by the glass. Such a shame since they've got a really nice wine list for a non-European ethnic joint.
That said, though, on the rare night my wife and I can escape Helmand is always near the top of the list of destinations, if only on the strength of the little pumpkins--undeniably a unique chowing experience--and the delicious bread with those three sauces.
Hmm. I gotta disagree with you on this one, Luther, whereas I usually don't. Not to take you too literally, but there are plenty of dishes without meat or pumpkin (not many without rice, but it's rarely an unavoidable main ingredient). To the extent that there's a somewhat narrow range of ingredients, all of which tend towards mellowness--are you suggesting that's atypical of Afghani food? (I find it to be true of local Turkish food too; and personally, since lamb/eggplant/pumpkin/yogurt/chickpeas are among my favorite ingredients in the world, I'm happy regardless.) If so, could you elaborate? Finally, what dishes did you try specifically?
From Helmand: pumpkin with no meat, pumpkin with meat, lamb rib (chop or roast? can't remember), beef filet, and some kind of lentils.
My best Afghan memory from NYC (sorry, I have no idea what the place is called, it was years ago) involved noodles with a seriously garlicky yogurt sauce, topped with a savory meat sauce. The bread was better (the Helmand bread was too chewy) and the sauce served with the bread had a perfect balance of mint, cilantro, garlic, and vinegar.
It's just the context that I don't like. The food at Helmand would be much more enjoyable for maybe $5/plate less, in a less pretentious atmosphere- one that doesn't imply "THIS IS FINE DINING." For example, something like the experience at Kolbeh of Kabob.
wow, luther, gotta disagree with you there. i posted on my very mediocre experience of kolbeh a few months ago. didn't have a thing that was worth returning for.and i ordered the things recommended on ch., quite a few dishes. when i compare it to Lala Rokh , it's like comparing Ground Round to the Union Square Bistro. my personal opinionated take, as usual.
I have to disagree, too. Not so much about your overall comments - I mean, Helmand certainly isn't Daniel or French Laundry or anything. But let's face it. The average entree there is about $15.00. It's unbelievably reasonable. The food is good, not great, but WAY above average for the price points. And I had my first date with my sweetie there, so it has great sentimental value.
And as tatamagouche pointed out, the "mellowness" of the food is typical of the regonal cuisine Helmand prepares.
Anyway, call me stubborn, but I still like it. As does my wallet.
Sorry for piling on. From the price break point of view, I think it's interesting and well prepared food for good value. It's not tacos lupita cheap, but it's a place that i'm happy to take people to for the combination of ambience, interest and quality. I spoke up recently about the rack of lamb, which I think is terrific and I agree wholeheartedly about the fresh flat bread and dipping sauces.