Bamiyan - they had me with the rice
My tastes run to little ethnic "hole in the wall" places in industrial; parks or in back of shopping centers, and Bamiyam (Rte 7 at Columbia Pike, Bailey's Crossroads VA) is definitely a big step above such haunts. But because of my humble tastes, I may be more awed by a nicer restaurant than many of you are.
The missus and I needed a break from our usual, and for the first time went to Bamiyan late (9pm) Thursday night. It was almost empty, but the nice decor let me know I was in for something good, and the single live musician set the mood with a haunting background of keyboard and electric violin (I almost thought he was channeling the "Blade Runner" soundtrack)
Service was just right, and the menu offered upscale versions of Afghan favorites I was used to ordering on foam plates from a counter. But the first taste wowed us both ... after a basket of naan with a "chimichurri-like" dip, we ordered a vegetable platter and a platter of 3 different kebabs to share. We tasted the rice first, and (forgive my enthusiasm) just floated away! I would kill to be able to make rice like that, with a harmony of spice flavors!
Veg platter: I'm used to greasy spinach in this cuisine, but there wasn't a hint of oiliness to this "subzi". Also "baunjan" (stir-fried eggplant), very nice, and kadu (sauteed pumpkin). I'm not a pumpkin fan, but this was special. I could happily have dined on a larger portion of any single one of these alone.
Kebabs: Lamb, chicken and shami (shawarma???), each delicately seasoned and perfectly cooked. Not a "stuff you full" portion, but we left very satisfied. We will definitely be back!
Prices were about double what we're used to at storefront "kebab joints", $13 for the veg platter and $18 for the kebabs.
If you want a nice compromise between fast, super casual, and good rice, then go to Kabob Bazaar (Persian) in Clarendon. Counter service at lunch - I don't know about dinner. When you get up to the counter ask for the tahdeeg (the crispy rice from the bottom of the rice pot). I don't think they charge extra for this, and I doubt it's on the menu or posted anywhere.
At most of these places, I rarely order kabobs anymore since I am well pleased with Ravi Kabob (Pakistani), Astor (Egyptian), Food Corner (Afghan) or Z Kabob (Tandoori) in Bailey's Crossroads for my casual kabob fix. I usually check out the stews and other items at the more elaborate places.
3133 Wilson Blvd, Arlington, VA 22201
I enjoyed Bamiyan on my first few visits, but found that I was ordering the same thing every time after a short while. Food and service have always been excellent, and I still go there occasionally for a kubideh kabob in an upscale environment, but for my casual cheap lunches, I still prefer Food Corner or Moby Dick. And I really liked it better before they had the musician. As a musician myself, I feel uncomfortable ignoring him and talking to my dining companions, but I come for the food, not the music. (and conversely, when I go to a place to hear music, I don't want to hear people at other tables talking and ignoring the performer).
1070 31st Street N.W., Washington, DC 20007