Crystal Bistro Afghani in Crystal, MN
We were in the area tonight and thought we would pop into the Crystal Bistro Afghani restaurant. I could have sworn I first read of it on Chowhound, but a search seems to come up with nothing. It's located in a strip mall on the N. side of Bass Lake Rd between 81 & Broadway (would be right @ Douglas & Bass Lake if Douglas didn't dead end.
When we walked in we were a bit surprised to find the place dead empty, but the space had a certain homespun warmth to it, and the proprietor ushered us in excitedly. As we sat and waited for our carry out order he assured us that they are packed on weekends, while bringing us little nibbles of the house bread, sauces (the green spicy sauce was delicous...somewhere between a mint/coriander chutney and a tomatilla salsa), and the house chai, which was fantastic on a cold night.
Our dining companions are devout carnivores, so our carry out order consisted of:
Lentil Soup--absolutely delicious & hearty, 100% vegetarian, enhanced by the green sauce
Spinach Pie--A bit dry
Gyros platter--it is what it is.
Braised lamb shank with brown basmati rice, raisins, almonds--delicously tender
Cabbage Leaf Stuffed with Ground Beef --with a light tomato sauce, perfectly seasoned, slightly smoky, quite nice
Total bill came to just over $40, it was plenty of food for 4 and the service was excellent (bearing in mind that we carried out and were the only ones in the place)
Overall, it's the sort of place that would benefit from a better location where they could pull in some weeknight action from the neighborhood. There seemed to be 4 or 5 delicious looking vegetarian entrees & pastas on the menu...certainly enough to appease your health conscious or vegetarian friends. Just 15 minutes from downtown Minneapolis, it could be well worth a chowhound trek, especially considering that it's the only Afghani in the TCs other than Khyber Pass.
Thanks for the tip... a lot of our mid-week, don't feel like cooking meals come from Athens Cafe (another great, cheap, why the heck are you located here, place). This sounds like it could be another nice addition in the same area!
I am a big fan of Afghan food, so after I saw this write up I have been meaning to try this place for a while. My advice to fellow Chowhounds: Go! Crystal Bistro should be getting a lot more buzz on this site than it has. The formula is right on: great food, reasonable prices, friendly service, and funky atmosphere.
I went yesterday for lunch. I thought the best dish was the eggplant which is stewed with tomatoes and seasoned with yogurt and mint. It was absolutely delicious -- and my 18 month old son gobbled down the leftovers that I brought home. This is a dish I can see developing a real craving for. We also had the pillau with stewed lamb. The meat was tender. The julienned carrots and mushrooms on top gave the dish a nice balance. For appetizers we shared the spinach pie and the aushak. The spinach pie, which was served with yogurt and spices on top, was good, but probably the least intresting dish we tried. The aushak -- which are leek dumplings covered with a tomato based sauce and yogurt -- were very tasty (it is listed as an entree, but they accomodated us with a half order as an appetizer). I also had a chai tea with my meal, which was milky and sweet -- delicious.
Our server, who I believe may also have been an owner, was very firendly and enthusiastic about the food. The decor consists of some rugs and pictures of Afghanistan on the wall. It is casual and comfortable.
I agree with g rote that it would benefit from a more heavily trafficed, urban location. But they drew a decent late lunch crowd. Overall I would say it is one of the 2-3 best new places I have tried in the Twin Cities in the past year.
To answer my own question, the new menu has been introduced.
We spent a little time talking with the owner, and found out some interesting things:
1. They're working on a new lunch menu that will have more sandwiches, and stuff like that.
2. Their most proud of their lamb dishes - the lamb is all organic. They usually only have the lamb shanks on Thursday and Friday, but had some on Saturday as a group of people made a reservation, but said they'd only come if there were lamb shanks, so they had some on Saturday this week.
3. There is one item that isn't on the menu - falafel. It will be on the lunch menu, and they'll make it for you as an appetizer if you ask for it.
4. He recently did a phone interview with Citypages for an upcoming review. (Presumably it was Dara) The reviewer told him she'd been there three times, and asked all sorts of questions about their food and how they make it. She was particularly interested in his 5 year old son who is always there, and LOVES the spicy green chutney. Apparently, Dara saw him trying to eat lots have more, and his mother trying to get him to eat less. (TCL loves the chutneys as well, so he packed some up for us with our leftovers.)
5. They have an area of assorted stuff for sale on display near the kitchen. If you want a rug, or bedding, or artwork, or a grandfather clock the owner will tell you all about how cheap his prices are.
So... if you want to eat there before Dara puts them in the spotlight, hurry up and get there.
Dara wrote in the review:
"...Hadi has a stable of regulars who come into the restaurant for bespoke feasts: $22.95 per person, for at least two people, gets a procession of special Afghani platters and bowls mounded with generous portions of all the things on his menu, or if you have favorites, more of one thing or another."
Sounds like a chowdown possibility to me!
EoS (FKA Neitz)
I've been to Crstal Bistro a number of times and it is now my favorite restaurant. I've never been disappointed by any menu item and truly wish more people knew about this place.
Well, we did it and now I am hooked!
Just the other day we noticed on our way to our favorite little Target, Crystal Bistro. I wondered aloud "What is Afghan Cuisine" as we drove past. Then I see Dara's review, THEN I see this post...we hopped in the car and drove over! That was last night - Wednesday.
We were promptly seated in a cute little booth - only one other couple (plus their baby) were in the restaurant during dinner. I told our server (later we made formal introductions) my story - that I passed the place and read the review and rushed over.
He was so wonderful about going over the menu with us - explaining the dishes, what he feels are their best dishes (most well known) - never pushy, always pleasant and patient with our many questions.
We ordered the combo appetizer of baba ghanoush and hummus. Yum! The accompanying pita slices were warm and melt in our mouth good.
We also were given warm fresh flatbread to try with the two different sauces on the table - a green and a red - yup, the red was hotter. Hadi (our server) showed us the way "he liked" to eat it. He put a bit of both baba ghanoush and hummus on our bread plate, topped with a bit of the red and green sauces and then let us enjoy on our warm bread!
Our entrees included the combo of the aushok (spinach filled dumpling) and mantu (meat filled dumpling). They were sooo light and delicous. They were in a very light tomato sauced that topped a layer of a yogurt sauce. We were crazy about the aushok!
The other entree was the banjaan, eggplant topped with a yogurt, tomato sauce.
As Mr. Food might say, "oooh, so good."
Hadi then provided us complimentary dessert of Ferdi or Ferni (spelling??) which was basically a tapioca pudding topped with cardamom shavings. Again, very light and fresh - we were in heaven.
The fun began as Hadi took our all of his guests (both our table and the other couple) on a tour of the shopping area! Rugs! Furniture! Deals!
What a great find - especially since it is in our shopping area (we live in N. Mpls)!
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