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Flavourful Afghan cuisine: The Helmand

18 Nov

The Helmand (143 First St., Cambridge, MA) has great ratings on Zagat, so I was not surprised to find it packed at 9 pm on a Friday night.  The waiting area has a large comfy couch and a coffee table lined with issues of Bon Apetit  and other foodie magazines. The open, main dining room also has a good view of the wood-fired brick oven. This place obviously takes food seriously.

Like many Boston area restaurants with good, moderately-priced food, tables are rather close together. I wondered if it was a pain for waiters to get to our table – that would explain the slow, inattentive service. My boyfriend and I sat awkwardly for a while, waiting for menus. When they finally arrived, they were crinkled, ratty, folded sheets of paper – not a great first impression.  When our server returned, he didn’t even ask to take our drink order.

I was delighted however, when flatbread arrived –  warm, and served with a trio of sauces you often see served at Indian restaurants: cucumber raita, a green chutney, and  a hot chili sauce.

Our appetizers arrived quickly. The bowlawni consisted of two filo pastries, one filled with leeks and scallions, the other filled with potatoes.

We also had the aushak: two triangular raviolis filled with leeks and scallions, topped with ground beef sauce. The raviolis themselves reminded me of Chinese dumplings.

Entrees ranged from $15-27. Lamb Lawand (below): chunks of tender leg of lamb in a spiced onion and tomato sauce, served with sauteed spinach and fluffy challow rice (white basmati rice boiled and drained, then tossed in Canola oil and cumin seeds, then baked).

The server neglected to bring us our side dish. When I did arrive, it was worth the delay. The banjan was melt-in-your-mouth yummy:  a thick slice of eggplant, pan-fried and then baked with tomatoes and served with a yogurt sauce.

The Final Word: The food at The Helmand is delicious and well-priced, and the menu offers flavours not often seen elsewhere. Too bad the service is lacking. Otherwise, I’d come here more often.
Helmand on Urbanspoon

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