Kabab House ice cream is a nice surprise

EARNINGS

Eats

February 21, 2002|By Robin Tunnicliff Reid | Robin Tunnicliff Reid,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

AMERICANS have heard a lot about Afghanistan since September: the country's religions, its tribal warlords, the misery of its not-too-distant past and the rich legacy of its long past.

What we haven't heard much about is Afghanistan's ice cream.

If it's anything like what's served at Afghan Kabab House in Federal Hill, it's worth some discussion.

Basically, sheer-e-yakh, as it's called, is a very dressed-up dish of French vanilla ice cream and strawberries. But the "accessories" are unlike anything most American restaurants would use. A garnish of crushed pistachios and short rice noodles gives the dish a surprising crunchy-chewy touch. Drizzled throughout is a thick magenta ribbon of pomegranate and rose-water syrup, made by the wife of restaurant owner Abdul Sahak.

The combination of these somewhat disparate elements is beautiful, making this a unique, delightful sweet.

The rest of our fare at Afghan Kabab was mostly fine, but not as noteworthy as the ice cream.

Once we removed the skin from the fried eggplant in the banjan borawni appetizer, we were able to appreciate how well the subtle taste of the sliced vegetables worked with a minted garlic-yogurt sauce.

FOR THE RECORD - A photo caption in yesterday's LIVE section misidentified members of the family that operates the Afghan Kabab House restaurant in Federal Hill. Jawid Qahir is owner Abdul Sahak's son; Madina Qahir is his daughter-in-law. The Sun regrets the error.

Bendi, an appetizer, was made mainly of okra and tomato sauce. The vegetable soup lacked any flavor. According to the menu, it contained homemade noodles (a staple in Afghan cuisine), broccoli, beans, onions, chickpeas, rice, potatoes, carrots, tomatoes, garlic, yogurt and spices. We detected only noodles, peas and carrots.

Two decent entrees suffered from excessive amounts of rice. The starch overwhelmed the plates of both the lamb tikka kabab and paneer sabzi, detracting from their overall appearance and taste.

In the first case, the six chunks of well-spiced, grilled lamb got lost in a vast sea of brown basmati rice. In the second, too-dry rice was barely moistened by the nicely broiled spinach dappled with bits of homemade cheese that we spooned over it. Had the raw onions served on the side been fried as the menu promised, they could have added a little liquid to the dish.

The kufta pallow was better balanced. There was just enough of the spicy meatball-potato-tomato-sauce mixture for the bed of rice. A swirl of a very green sauce served on the side added a delightful wash of cilantro to the entree and made it the most appealing one we had.

Service started off slowly. Our server brought us menus fast enough, but no water. After several minutes passed, we asked, and he delivered. From then on, the provisions flowed in good time.

The decor, while simple, is well done. Sahak, a Pashtun from Kandahar, has brightened the small space with colorful clothing and photographs of his homeland, including the famous picture of a green-eyed female Afghan refugee that acclaimed photographer Steve McCurry took for National Geographic.

RUM-SOAKED SAGAS

1019 Light St.

410-244-1118

Open: For lunch and dinner daily

Credit cards: MC, V

Prices: Appetizers $2.50 to $3.25; entrees $7 to $12.50

Food: **1/2

Service: ** 1/2

Atmosphere: ** 1/2

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