June 2006 Cheap Eats
Glittering chandeliers and silky window treatments take Afghan cuisine into fine-dining territory at this restaurant named for an Afghan city where the Taliban destroyed two ancient Buddha statues. But while the space is suited to a grand wedding, the cooking has a personal, homespun feel.
Mantu and aushak, those oversize raviolis, at first seem familiar. Mantu is filled with ground beef, aushak with chopped scallions, and both get a blanket of tomato and yogurt. But they also get a generous shake of spicy sumac, the Lawry's salt of the Middle East, used with abandon in Persian cooking but less often in Afghan. Even more of a scorcher is carrayee, a stir-fry of lamb chunks, onions, tomatoes, green pepper, and crushed hot red peppers. By contrast, a saute of eggplant, smoky and sweet, is a welcome respite from the heat, as is kadu chalau, sauteed pumpkin with a dollop of yogurt and a splash of tomato.
Tender garlic-laden lamb chops, called lamb ribs here, are the best of the kebabs, although they're well done rather than rosy. Stir-fried spinach turns up bland, and boolawnee, a large triangle of dough filled with potato and leeks, could have used more time in the oven. But Bamian has enough going for it to let a few missteps slide.