KABUL KABAB HOUSE
247 Post Ave., Westbury
SERVICE: Knowledgeable and friendly
AMBIENCE: Exotic fare in a bright, cheery, family-friendly setting
ESSENTIALS: Open from 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday to Thursday, to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Wheelchair accessible, takeout available, cash only, no liquor, public parking lot in back.
There’s no mystery about what you are going to find at Kabul Kabab, which opened in August across Post Avenue from The Space at Westbury theater: The place serves kebabs, made in the Afghan style. Which is a very good thing since Afghans are masters of spit-roasted meat.
Kebabs are front and center not only on the menu but in the layout. Passing from street to the dining room you skirt a glassed-in area that houses an enormous grill across which are laid dozens of flat skewers threaded with all manner of meat and turned periodically until they achieve maximum flavor and succulence.
It’s a young establishment, but the cooking here is expert: This is the second restaurant from Abdul Mosaver, who also owns the 28-year-old Kabul Kabab on Main Street in Flushing. Both establishments are halal.
The family noted the eastward migration of Afghan, Persian, Indian and Pakistani families from Queens to Long Island, said Mosaver’s son, Omar, who runs the Westbury location. “And we decided to follow them.” He said that while Afghan cuisine has some similarities to those of the subcontinent, “it is a lot more straightforward.” Indian food, with its powerful spices, can be polarizing, he said. “With Afghan cooking, you’ve got to like cumin, but that’s pretty much it. If you like grilled meat and rice, you are going to like Afghan food.” Truth.
Certainly you cannot go wrong with meat here. Lamb chops are stout and full of flavor. The koobideh kebab, made from spiced ground beef, bears the mark of practiced fingers that have created ridges to get crispy, depressions to trap juice. Both the beef barg (cut from a flat-iron steak) and the lamb tikka kebabs pack more of a punch than boneless meat usually does.
Even boneless white-meat chicken emerges from the grill improbably tender, juicy, flavorful, but bird lovers should order the jojeh kebab, Persian in origin, in which pieces of bone-in Cornish hen are skewered and gloriously burnished.
Every kebab comes with rice, another area of Afghan mastery. White rice, fluffy in the aggregate though each impossibly long grain remains separate, is a perfect blank canvas for absorbing kebab runoff. The brown rice has been seasoned with onion, cumin and cardamom, and should dispel any prejudice you may have developed against the virtuous but often unexciting grain. On weekends, “green” rice is made by tossing white rice with fresh dill.
Two sauces grace the table at Kabul Kabab, either one of which will take your kebab to the next level: the suave white sauce, which was probably invented in New York by an anonymous halal street cart operator, is what ranch dressing dreams of becoming when it grows up. At the other end of the spectrum is chatni, a spicy green cilantro-chili sauce that is deepened with some ground walnuts.
When compared with the kebabs, the lamb shank, not grilled, but braised in a tomato sauce, was wan and monotone.
As you await your kebabs, don’t pass up the standout starters. Omar’s mother, Yasamine Mosaver, presides over the kitchen. It was her idea to elevate the golden lentil soup with tiny shards of fried pita. The sambosas, triangular turnovers filled with ground beef and chickpeas, are fried to an exquisite crispness.
Neither hummus nor babaganoush is traditional in Afghanistan, and they feel obligatory here. Instead, go for the kashk badenjan dip, a mashed marriage of eggplant and tomato that deserves better bread than the perfunctory pita it is served with.
Kabul Kabab’s dining room evokes exoticism without wallowing in it. One wall is dominated by a colorful, handmade quilt Yasamina bought in India; Moorish-style tile work (which really comes into its own in the restroom) and perforated copper pendant lamps call to mind a North African souk. The one identifiable Afghan element here is a rendering, painted by Omar’s sister Homaira, of the iconic photograph of the green-eyed Afghan girl that graced the cover of National Geographic Magazine in 1985. The intriguing yet approachable cooking at Kabul Kabab is still another example of the culture’s beauty.