subject: Ariana's Grill Kabob House
take-out vehicle: too many to name
cost: $25.68 (for 2)
I've passed this restaurant several times in the past few weeks, and each time I've said to my wife, "We should check that place out soon. You know how restaurant turnover is in this town."
"Mm-hmm," was always her reply, and soon, at her prompting, we were talking about something else entirely.
My memory is not the best, but when it comes to food, it's all but photographic. So, when thinking of a place to feature in this week's review, Ariana's instantly came to mind. I emailed my wife about my desire to eat there, and her reply made it clear what "mm-hmm" had meant: "I'm not sure why you are so excited about this place. It looks pretty gross to me."
"Because it's new and different!" i said. "It'll be fun!"
She didn't email back, but I could hear her next "mm-hmm" from across town.
(For those unfamiliar, Ariana's Grill Kabob House is a small, relatively new restaurant on West Main Street across from the Hampton Inn. Self-described as the only restaurant in the university area to serve authentic Afghan foods, I was eager to try it, as my experiences with Afghan food had been pretty limited. I knew I liked kabobs, but other than that, I really didn't know what to expect.)
A notoriously finicky ethnic food eater, my wife sat down to dinner with the same sense of gusto as would a toddler after being told that dinner was made only of peas. I, of course, couldn't wait.
For twenty-five bucks, we got a good deal of food (and good deal of packaging). Along with the complimentary (though rather generic) salads, I ordered one appetizer for us to split, bolanee kadoo, which was described as "fried turnovers filled with pumpkin, seasoned with herbs and spices, and served with yogurt sauce." In fact, it was one turnover. Large, triangular, and thin, the kadoo sort of resembled a large paper football. The pumpkin filling was meager but tasty; the dominant tastes were pumpkin, onions, coriander, and fried dough. We forgot to try the kadoo with the yogurt sauce, which, for my wife anyway, turned out to be for the best.
My wife, as it turned out, wasn't a fan of the yogurt sauce. Said through her distorted, "oh god, it's awful!" face, her less-than-lady-like comments made me laugh, but they also got me a bit curious. Nothing can taste that bad, I said to myself. It's just yogurt, right?
I had no problem with it. Certainly, it wasn't the best thing I'd ever tasted (mildly sour greek yogurt with some unidentifiable spice and maybe some mint), but when slathered on the shoe leather-esque bread we were given, it really wasn't bad.
For our main courses, I ordered the "Combo #1": one skewer of chicken kabob, one of kofta kabob, a side of cooked spinach, and rice. She ordered the chicken kabob only, which came with rice and a cooked chick pea salad.
Overall, mine was pretty good. the brightly-colored* chicken was a tad overcooked (which I'll gladly attribute to the take-out process) and a tad underseasoned (it needed a little salt), but good. The kofta—essentially long sausages made from ground sirloin, onion, and spices—were much better, however. There was a greater flavor to the meat, and the texture was good in a "hey, this ain't jimmy dean" kinda way. The spinach, too, was good, though the Popeye in me wanted a little more. I didn't eat much of the rice, not because it was bad, but because it's just filler, and dessert was yet to come.
Surprisingly, my wife had little to say about her kabob and chick pea salad (which she compared to baked beans). In fact, she almost seemed to like them. of course, again, dessert was yet to come.
After finishing our kabobs and clearing the table, I went to the refrigerator and came back with a small, clear plastic tub and set it on the table between us.
My wife peered at it, suspicious. "What is it?"
"It's called firnee," I said excitedly. "It's pudding."
Judging by her face, she was apparently having flashbacks. "It's gonna taste like the yogurt!"
"No it's not," I chuckled. "See, look," I said as I opened the tub and took a spoonful.
It was actually very good. Unlike most American puddings, this wasn't overtly sweet or flavorful. It was cool and refreshing, and the aftertaste—cardamom and rose water—spread and intensified with each bite. I smiled to reassure her. "Seriously, it's good. Try some."
She approached the pudding slowly with her spoon, then stopped. "Wait," she said, "What's that?"
"That green stuff."
"Oh," I said, looking again at the pudding. Then I remembered the menu's description. "That's just ground pistachios." I took another bite, this time with the green stuff. It added no flavor I could detect. "It's good."
I'm not sure if she trusted me at that point or not (it occurred to me that perhaps I was Lucy to her Afghan food-eating Charlie Brown), but she took a bite, and for an instant, all was well. Then "the face" came back.
"Ugh! It's like eating perfume!"
Though our feelings about the dinner were mixed, I can say that, at least for me, it was indeed new and different and fun, though (unfortunately for Ariana's) most of my fun came from watching—and listening to—my wife.
Thank you baby for trying something new. I love you.
*I have little doubt that the chicken kabob was colored with powdered tumeric, which, I just read, has a fascinating range of applications, including sunscreens, ant deterrents, and radiator stop-leak sealant mixtures. Who knew?