When I first sat down at the Afghan Grill Kabob House, I was in need of some cheering up. What helped, for starters, was the graciousness of the staff. The dining room was serene and tasteful, another sign that I had come to a place run by caring, knowledgeable people. But it was the food -- as reassuring as it was vibrant -- that really turned me around.
I found myself brightening as soon as I tucked into a plate of manto, delicate steamed ground meat dumplings crowned with yogurt sauce and showered with spices and dried mint. On a subsequent visit, I savored another kind of dumpling, aushak -- sheer al dente pasta triangles filled with chopped scallions and topped with the same yogurt and spice melange. The hearty fried turnovers called sambosas enclosed seasoned ground meat interiors. They were very good, especially when dipped into the accompanying cilantro sauce. Again and again, I slathered warm triangles of pita with hummus, the tahini-enhanced chick pea dip anointed with dabs of olive oil. Kashk-e-badenjon, an eggplant dip, was almost as addictive.
A gratis salad arrived unbidden. It was the freshness of the leaf lettuce and vegetables and the homestyle yogurt dressing that made this one worth eating.
Whenever I'm at an Afghan restaurant, I seek out a dish called zereshk pallow, grilled skewered Cornish hen paired with a raisin and berry-topped basmati rice pilaf. The version here was first-rate, the partially boned hen juicy inside and spice-encrusted without, the rice and fruit combination a sprightly one. Chef-owner Wais Shair managed to get the kebab of jumbo shrimp grilled exactly right, no small feat. But he overcooked the kebab barg, rendering the flavorful pieces of marinated steak dry. Kebab kobideh -- cylinders of grilled spiced ground beef -- came off the fire burnished and moist on the inside. So, too, did the chaplee kebab, zesty spiced ground beef patties.
While the restaurant may call itself a grill and kebab house, one of the best dishes turned out to be lamb shank, stewed to glorious softness and served over brown basmati rice. Another stew, lawand, featured pieces of chicken breast in a creamy yogurt sauce. The chicken was a bit overcooked. I had no beef about the vegetarian pumpkin and tomato sauce, a combination with robust appeal.
If wine enhances your dining experience, know that the restaurant doesn't serve any alcohol but does permit diners to supply their own; they will cheerfully uncork and pour.
At dinner's conclusion, the flaky baklava was good but didn't compare to Shair's rich house-made vanilla ice cream. Better yet was firni, a silky milk pudding that ended the meal on an appropriate high note. I left feeling lighter than I had come in, if only in spirit.