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ARIANA - Very Mild Mannered Afghani Cuisine in Brighton:

opinionatedchef Feb 21, 2011 08:02 PM

This was one of the " best new 2010 restaurants" featured in the Globe and we finally made it here tonight.
We ordered just about everything we could- 7 apps/sides; 3 entrees: 2 lamb, one chicken. To cut to the chase, at the end of the meal my anecdote was “this all tastes like Indian food without any of the spices” and My Love’s anecdote was “it’s like that Chinese waitress(long ago) that said, in response to a question about 2 different menu choices, “same sauce, diff’ent meat.” There’s nothing wrong with what we had. It’s just that I think it most likely does NOT represent Afghani food at its best.

As with our experience at The Family Restnt, Turkish, in Brookline Village( much beloved of CHs)there was a very limited pantry of ingredients: lamb,beef, chicken, onions, tomatoes, eggplant, okra, squash, carrots, yoghurt, and rice and rice, and lamb. oh, i forgot--and flavorless dried mint. It all pretty much tasted the same> mild, stewy,very good. Just boring. A place where we go once and not again. When I look back it, I guess that’s the same way we felt after going to Helmand 20 years ago.

Wikipedia says this about Afghani cuisine:


But tonight in the savories we saw no nuts, no dried fruits, no saffron, no cardamom, no goat cheese, and basically no spices except a hint of cinnamon in 1 rice dish, and red pepper or black pepper in others. It was not that long ago that America finally started to see into the amazing diversity and complexity of Indian cuisine. I am guessing that Afghan cuisine is at the beginning stage here.
I’m sure it can be dazzling. Certainly Ana Sortun’s pioneering work in introducing Boston to the rich complexity of Mediterranean and Turkish cuisine - has shown us the possibilities. Maybe Ariana’s owner/chef (and formerly Helmand chef) will get his feet wet here and proceed to venture out. That would be great.

  1. c
    cheesehead in recovery Sep 6, 2011 07:18 PM

    Is Ariana still in business? -- Some one told me it closed over the summer.

    1 Reply
    1. re: cheesehead in recovery
      Allstonian Sep 7, 2011 06:51 AM

      You were misinformed - it is still in business.

    2. n
      NunzioDiGiovanni Sep 5, 2011 10:13 PM

      Opinionatedchef, you stated that at the end of your meal your anecdote was “this all tastes like Indian food without any of the spices.” Having been to Afghanistan, I can tell you that you just described authentic Afghan food as it is prepared and as it tastes in Afghanistan.

      129 Brighton Ave, Boston, MA 02134

      2 Replies
      1. re: NunzioDiGiovanni
        opinionatedchef Sep 5, 2011 10:19 PM

        well, thanks,nunzi, i had expected as much, but then people jumped in and told me no no no, that afghani food varied greatly depending on the region represented.....Thanks for the info. Seems I'm just not an afghani food fan.

        1. re: NunzioDiGiovanni
          FoodDabbler Sep 6, 2011 12:55 PM

          Welcome to the board (this being your first post here). Where did you go in Afghanistan and what did you eat there?

        2. Allstonian Feb 25, 2011 05:11 AM

          Purely for the record, since both opinionatedchef and Ab Ghoosht Dude refer to eating at the Helmand 20 years ago: 20 years ago the only Helmand restaurants were the ones in San Francisco and Baltimore. The Cambridge Helmand opened some time in 1994. Prior to that I remember a burrito joint in one part of the current space.

          2 Replies
          1. re: Allstonian
            CookieLee Feb 25, 2011 07:10 AM

            ... and a delicious Italian restaurant in the other part.

            1. re: CookieLee
              Madrid Feb 25, 2011 07:45 AM

              Yes! I remember the Italian place.....can't remember the name...does anyone know where the chef(s) went afterwards?

          2. a
            Ab Goosht Dude Feb 25, 2011 03:07 AM

            Real Afghan Food

            I have to agree, the original poster most likely
            simply doesn't care for Afghan cuisine.
            We have been visiting Helmand since they began maybe 20 years ago.
            Afghan food will never knock your socks off...
            Will not provide the kick and intensity of a great Hindustani or Sichuan meal
            and is not nearly as deep and varied as the best Turkish cuisine can be.
            (which, Ms Sortun's good work not withstanding, is still unavailable both here, and in large portions of Turkey as well)
            Having sampled Afghan meals throughout Afghanistan & in other countries,
            our experience is that the Helmand, both here and in their original SFO location,
            offers as authentic and well executed version of this genre as we have ever come across.
            The lack of intensity may be a valid criticisism though, we probably visit only
            once or twice a year, but their baked to order bread,
            (typically served with sabzi, yogurt and a fiery sauce) is worth a visit by itself...
            their chellos, & subtle spicing are always correctly done,.
            & the scallion version of their Aushak pasta, makes a fine (again subtle) counterpoint
            to their lamb or chicken.
            The main difference between their version and real Afghan, afghan food, is
            the ingredient quality, which is far superior here.
            That, and (apples to oranges, at best) the fact that:
            the 'typical' afghan street food meal consisted of a charcoaled skewer holding
            two pieces of lamb, each the size of an olive,
            with a similarly tiny piece of pure lamb fat between the two..
            On the plus side it used to cost ¢7.5 per skewer,
            of course, that was before
            the Russians
            and, it pains me to say
            the Americans
            saw fit to come in
            and made themselves at home...

            The Ab Goosht Dude

            7 Replies
            1. re: Ab Goosht Dude
              MC Slim JB Feb 25, 2011 03:15 AM

              Wonderful to get the perspective of someone who knows the traditional cuisine intimately. Thanks for posting!


              1. re: Ab Goosht Dude
                gourmaniac Feb 25, 2011 06:34 AM

                Thanks for this. I agree on the bread at helmand. It's excellent. How is the bread at Ariana? The other thing I loved at Helmand is the rack of lamb. The Kaddo, ok but too sweet for my taste.

                1. re: gourmaniac
                  Allstonian Feb 25, 2011 07:10 AM

                  The one time I ate at Ariana the bread was good but not as fantastic as Helmand's - and how could it be? Helmand has a bread baker right there in the restaurant turning out loaf after loaf of that fantastic bread; I don't know where Ariana's bread comes from, but it certainly is not baked on the spot!

                  [joebloe complained above that the bread at Ariana was stale - ours was not, and it was fine but not near as special as Helmand's.]

                  1. re: Allstonian
                    bear Feb 25, 2011 07:33 AM

                    I've never eaten at the Helmand so I can't compare, but the bread we had at Ariana didn't appear to be freshly baked. It seemed a little dry, perhaps from being heated too long. It still tasted fresh, though.

                    I'm no expert on Afghani food so take this in that context, and I suppose that really doesn't make this post entirely on-topic. I've only been once and was with my vegetarian son so we ordered all veggie dishes.

                    We really enjoyed everything, expecially the aushak appetizer and the eggplant-pumpkin special (it is sweet, though!). We also liked the kourma challow, a mixed veggie dish with sauteed spinach, but did find the spicing pretty subtle compared to what we were expecting. We just chalked our reaction up to the fact that we're Afghani food newbies.

                    This place seems to be shooting for a neighborhood vibe, with casual but efficient service and some reasonably priced wines. We'll definitely go back, and look forward to learning more about Afghani food. I also want to try some of the meat options,but it is a good choice for vegetarians.

                    It will be interesting to see if more quality places open up and how the styles compare.

                    1. re: Allstonian
                      joebloe Mar 1, 2011 08:34 PM

                      The bread at Ariana was at least hot in comparison to the three pathetic pieces of cold bread at Helmand in San Francisco. Just thinking about it I'll have hit the Cambridge location tomorrow.

                      1. re: joebloe
                        opinionatedchef Mar 1, 2011 10:47 PM

                        look forw. to your report , jb.

                        1. re: opinionatedchef
                          joebloe Mar 2, 2011 06:53 PM

                          Sorry no report. Ended up at Bon Chon for lunch and Oishii for dinner instead.

                2. f
                  FoodDabbler Feb 22, 2011 07:38 AM

                  "Just boring. A place where we go once and not again. When I look back it, I guess that’s the same way we felt after going to Helmand 20 years ago."

                  I don't know about Ariana, but I think Helmand is very good. Not every dish is equally successful, but each time we eat there we are struck by the subtle complexity of the flavors. We find ourselves wishing that there were more Indian restaurants in the Boston area as good.

                  7 Replies
                  1. re: FoodDabbler
                    cambridgedoctpr Feb 22, 2011 10:13 AM

                    I agree with FoodDabbler; if you feel that this restaurant is the equal of Helmand. That is high praise indeed.

                    1. re: cambridgedoctpr
                      Jenny Ondioline Feb 22, 2011 10:34 AM

                      I'd say it's as good as or better than Helmand in terms of food. Sounds to me like the OP's problem is mostly that she doesn't much like Afghani food, which is hardly the restaurant's fault.

                      And yes, the restaurant is in Allston, not Brighton.

                      1. re: Jenny Ondioline
                        opinionatedchef Feb 22, 2011 11:27 AM

                        My review was definitiely intended to convey that I do not pretend to understand what (high quality) Afghani food is- after eating at only 2 Afghani Boston restaurants , both w/ the same chef. Now, if I knew a number of Afghanis who had told me that either restaurant really nailed the best of their cuisine, that would be something else. In that case, you would be correct that i am just not a big fan of the very limited flavor profiles I experienced at these 2 places. But, in the last 40 years here in Boston, I have witnessed the nascence and exponential development of variety and quality in the Chinese, Indian and Mexican restaurants here , and I am hoping that the Afghani food at Ariana is like those other cuisines at their earliest introduction stage in Boston.

                        If that is the case, then hopefully I will someday be thrilled by Afghani cuisine . If not, there are many of you who are thrilled already. Sounds like a win-win.

                        129 Brighton Ave, Boston, MA 02134

                        1. re: opinionatedchef
                          joebloe Feb 24, 2011 11:12 PM

                          Every dish at Ariana is $2-$4 cheaper but portion is noticeably smaller. Service is much worse. Flavor is about the same but the bread served is stale and nowhere as good. I prefer Helmand by far. Maybe it's just me, but a remodeled or a copycat restaurant have never beaten the original.

                          1. re: opinionatedchef
                            opinionatedchef Mar 2, 2011 09:40 PM

                            In an unusual spate of events, i had a long conversation about Ariana and other Allston food spots- w/ a Pakistani while we shared a table at Azama tonight. He agreed with me that he found the food mild ("the spinach like something out of a can") and that he was surprised and thought it would be spicier, being that Afghanistan is somewhat close to pakistan. He also relayed that when he mentioned this mildness to an Afghani co-worker, she explained that they use a lot of spices and make a lot of 'curries' in Afghanistan.
                            A poster to a General CH thread I began - said that a 'garam masala-type spice mixture' was commonly used in Afghanistan. So it seems from these sources that Ariana may not be the best rep. for this cuisine. At any rate, there's certainly a place in the world for mild food, and if you really like Ariana, that's great.

                            The Pakistani fellow highly recommended a Turkish place- Sayad? on Comm. Ave down at the big curve. Anyone tried it?

                            1. re: opinionatedchef
                              Jenny Ondioline Mar 2, 2011 11:17 PM

                              The Turkish place at Packards Corner is called Saray, and is a longtime neighborhood favorite:


                              1. re: Jenny Ondioline
                                opinionatedchef Mar 3, 2011 12:03 AM

                                thanks so much.

                    2. MC Slim JB Feb 22, 2011 06:24 AM

                      It's actually in Allston.


                      1 Reply
                      1. re: MC Slim JB
                        Infomaniac Feb 22, 2011 09:23 AM

                        Thanks and that's what I thought based on this post


                      2. Infomaniac Feb 22, 2011 01:12 AM

                        What would be helpful to me is what the 7 apps/sides and 2 lamb, one chicken dishes you ordered were.

                        I'm hoping to visit this weekend based on another review from Another_Adam who went into more detail of the food there.

                        Sorry...I'm more interested in the food than anecdotes, or what your guessing the cuisine should be.

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