Choopan Grill is all about the comforts of home - if home happens to be Kabul or Kandahar.
While Afghanistan may be known for its rugged terrain, harsh climate and conflict-ridden history, the country's cuisine comes off as the embodiment of harmony. Culinary traditions from invading cultures, both Middle Eastern and Asian, get along famously on the plate.
Who wouldn't love the leek-stuffed dumplings called aushak? Al dente pasta enfolds a verdant interior; the ingenious little pockets are topped with a combo of yogurt and chicken meat sauce. Mantoo, their chicken-stuffed cousins, are just as appealing. An assortment of sambosas (fried turnovers similar to the Indian samosas) come with fillings of spinach, ground beef, ground chicken and mixed vegetables; each has its virtues. Plenty of garlic infuses the badinjan burani, fried eggplant with house-made yogurt. The dish is accompanied by warm pillowy nan, a bread that's much more substantial than its Indian counterpart.
Rice is served over rather than alongside meat in several dishes. One, murgh palow, features delectable bone-in chicken under a mountain of brown rice, paired with a bowl of curried chicken in sauce to put on top. In the case of Qabuli palow, I have to mine through raisin and carrot strewn rice to reach a softly stewed lamb shank. The similar sabzi palow doesn't have raisins or carrots and is accompanied by a bowl of deftly spiced spinach.
I'm impressed by the piquant, herbal chicken tandoori, seasoned differently (but no less alluringly) than the Indian version. And I love the spicy fish kebab, chunks of marinated cod glazed on the outside, snowy within.
Firnee is a fitting finale, fragrant custard infused with rosewater and cardamom, showered with chopped pistachios.
A combo plate features lamb tikka, chicken breast, lamb chops and chapli (think of a fried highly seasoned burger).
Everything is dry and overcooked, the lamb chops virtually incinerated.
Service is indifferent one occasion, caring the next.
A rich culinary experience.