Restaurant Review October 2011

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Kabul Night
Taking a chance can really pay off

Overall rating on a scale of 1-10
Service 8 • Food  8.5 • Ambiance  8 • Price – $$

We’re fairly lucky in the Capital Region to have a reasonable selection of global fare. But to my knowledge, Afghan cuisine is not exactly well represented. However lucky for us there’s at least one local eatery serving authentic Afghan fare at a truly unbeatable price in downtown Schenectady.

Kabul Night is located in the storefront of a small brick building on the corner of Union and North Broadway. As you walk in your whole being is infused with the culture of this Middle Eastern country: the music, the smells, the décor; it’s exotic, but inviting.

But before we go any further, you might be wondering just what Afghan food is. Essentially, the cuisine is influenced by nearby India, Iran and Pakistan. This means rice is a staple, and there’s also a prevalence of spices like saffron, coriander, cardamom and black pepper, as well as an abundant use of dried fruits and nuts and yogurt sauces. So really, what’s not to like?

The Kabul Night menu is a nice representation of popular “Afghan cuisine”. There are a number of kababs and rice dishes like Palow, and also Qormas, similar to curries. There is also a nice selection of lamb and beef dishes, as well as plenty of vegetarian options.

Dining companions Jeff and Tina were hungry tonight, (and I’m always famished) so right away we had our waiter bring a basket of Afghan Bread ($2.50), an order of Samosas ($4.50), fried dumplings filled with potatoes and peas served with a garlic-dill yogurt sauce, and the Kadu Borani ($4.50). This was the most interesting item on the appetizer menu; slices of sweet and spicy sautéed butternut squash, topped with  tomato sauce and  yogurt. The samosas were fine, but nothing outstanding; it was the cool, creamy yogurt sauce with a garlic kick that elevated them. The Kadu Borani was the clear table favorite. The slices of squash were sweet and tender and they were smothered in a thick, tangy tomato sauce. My only advice? Order two, the serving is modest and you will want more.

Tina went Afghani mainstream and ordered the Lamb Tikka Kabob ($12.95) for dinner. It was served with rice and a small salad with a refreshing yogurt and mint dressing. The marinated spiced lamb was a little too spicy and a bit dry for her taste. It would have benefitted greatly from some of that great yogurt sauce. But the rice that accompanied the meat was delicious. There were two types, both made with Basmati, but cooked and seasoned differently.

Jeff decided on a traditional Afghan dish called Mantoo ($10.95), which are steamed dumplings filled with ground beef and spices. The dumplings were covered in a smooth, creamy sauce of cooked yellow split peas and served with mint and garlic yogurt sauce. Overall the dish was much more delicate and mild than anything we’d sampled so far. In fact, a little of the spice from Tina’s kabob would have been a welcome addition. But, the dumplings were soft and the peas were a nice surprise, having been cooked just enough, which gave the dish a nice contrast in textures.

I relied on our waiter for help with choosing an entrée from the vegetarian selections. Without hesitation he emphatically recommended the Banjan Borani ($9.95). A dish of roasted eggplant and onions in a tomato-based sauce served with yogurt over a bed of Basmati rice may not sound all that exciting, but in fact I’ve never had an eggplant dish that was so tender and flavorful.

Eggplant, which can be bitter, isn’t exactly known for its vibrant, mouthwatering flavor profile. In fact, it’s usually “hidden” in stews or casseroles, taking on the characteristics of the other ingredients it’s cooked with. But this chef knew exactly how to coax the best out of this tough veggie. And the tangy, garlic-infused yogurt was a bright and welcome juxtaposition to the sweet tomato sauce. It was a perfectly harmonious dish. (Note: Never underestimate the benefit of having a waiter who really knows the menu.)

We ate as much as our stomachs could hold, but the entree portions at Kabul Night are generous and we all ended up surrendering despite our best efforts. As a result, dessert was out of the question. But our waiter wouldn’t hear of it, and presented us with some complimentary Baklava to take home, a nice way to end our dining experience.

So, if you’re ready to be pleasantly surprised and enjoy homemade, authentic Afghan food in a friendly atmosphere, get to Kabul Night tonight (and they do have their own parking lot, so no excuses).
The total cost for two sodas, three appetizers and three entrees, (excluding tax and tip) was a true bargain at $56.80.

Kabul Night is located at 402 Union Street, Schenectady. Hours are 11am-2:30 and 4:30pm-9pm Tuesday through Friday, noon-9pm, closed Sunday and Monday. For more information call 346.0202.

Christina DeMers is an online marketing manager, food blogger and amateur cook who lives in Troy, but eats just about anywhere.
 

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