We made the trek across the river to Virginia in search of last minute additions to our Halloween costumes. Whenever we're in a far off new land, I like to search out restaurants that I've seen Tom Sietsema recommend in his weekly chats. When our itinerary called for a visit to Falls Church, I knew we had to pay a visit to the Afghan restaurant Bamian.
Bamian has a beautiful dining room, and in addition to the standard tables, features about a half dozen tables separated by walled dividers so you feel like you're eating in your own private restaurant. Luckily, one of these was available for us!We were a little hesitant to try out an Afghan restaurant since our first foray into Afghan food was at our friend's mom's house (they are from Kabul), where she cooked up a giant platter of kabobs and fresh bread. I didn't think Bamian would be able to match Mrs. L's cooking, but it came very close!
We began our Afghan culinary adventure with Boolawnee (clay oven-baked pastry stuffed with scallions, chopped leeks and potatoes, and served with a side of homemade yogurt). It was a giant, tasty empanada-like treat that was awesome when topped with the tangy yogurt.
B didn't know what to order so he tried the Bamian Platter, which featured seasoned rice, white rice topped with meat sauce, and one skewer each of shami (seasoned ground beef), chicken, and lamb kabob.
I tried the boneless, skinless chicken kabobs. All of the kabobs are served with thick bread that you use to construct a sort of Afghan taco using the rice, veggies, yogurt sauce, and meat.
On the side (counterclockwise) was the bread, meat sauce (to be poured over the seasoned rice) and my favorite dish, Kadu (sauteed pumpkin). The Kadu was an outstanding combo of sweet, hearty pumpkin, sour yogurt, and tiny pieces of mint. It was one of the most interesting dishes I've eaten. If you like the crispy spinach at Rasika, you've got to try Bamian's Kadu.
We didn't know what to order for dessert so we took our very friendly waiter's suggestion and tried the Baqlawa. It is described on the menu as a thin layer of syrup-soaked pastry with walnut and chopped pistachios. The pastry was so thin and light that it was like a delicate cookie. Think baklava, but lighter.
As I sat at our private table sipping chai, I kept telling B how much I enjoyed our experience at Bamian. The food was excellent, the service outstanding, and the dining room had a peaceful feel. It might not be home cooking, but Bamian makes you feel like you're part of a large, happy Afghan family.
Second Thoughts from B
Normally when we write blog posts about restaurants, J starts it off and I tack on my "second thoughts" after reading her first draft. In the case of Bamian, as I read her descriptions and looked at our pictures, so many tasty memories came rushing back that I almost started drooling. All of the meats were fully flavored and juicy, which made it that much better to have bread and rice to mop it all up. Usually the term comfort food is associated with things you grew up eating (clearly not the case here for us), so let me instead call this "comforting food."
The other thing that stood out for me about our Afghan adventure was the service. My guess is that places like Bamian get two very different types of customers; those who grew up with Afghan food and those who are trying something new. Obviously we can't comment on the food from the perspective of someone from Afghanistan, but as stewards of a cuisine that was mostly foreign to us, Bamian did a great job. We were quickly and warmly welcomed, and our waiter took great care of us as he patiently walked us through the menu and made recommendations. For some, trying something new can be frightening, but with Bamian as your guide, there is nothing to fear.