Editors' pick


$$$$ ($15-$24)

Editorial Review

A Taste of Bethesda

By Tom Sietsema
Sunday, March 19, 2006

Good thing I made a reservation, I think to myself when I show up at Faryab early on a Friday night to find a crowded foyer and tables that are being snatched up like lottery tickets before a big Powerball drawing. The staff seems to know a lot of the faces, judging from all the salutations by name. Friendly waves and murmurs of recognition from those in the crowd also greet some of the diners as they're led to their seats in this cozy Afghan restaurant.

Much of the time, the family-owned Faryab makes itself easy to like. The room -- a picture in white simply outfitted with arches, tile floors and a few decorative Afghan rugs -- is as conducive to a twosome as it is to parents with offspring in tow. And the menu is uncomplicated. For better or worse, the selections are built around a handful of familiar flavors: yogurt, noodles, ground beef, rice and eggplant.

Mantu is a staple in Afghan restaurants. Order some. The steamed dumplings -- ground meat and chopped onions bound in a slippery cover of pasta -- come four to an order and make for a delicious start, enhanced as they are with a drizzle of yogurt and a crumble of meat sauce. Another mainstay is bulanee, thin, triangular fried pastries sandwiched with either crisp scallions or ground beef and mashed potatoes (my pick, for sheer comfort). The specials occasionally include appetizers with a decidedly Middle Eastern bent, such as velvety smooth hummus or nicely smoky eggplant dip; the pillowy squares of sesame-speckled flatbread that precede a meal at Faryab make terrific scoops for those and other purees and sauces. They taste homemade, and they are.

If meat is your thing, lamb should be your mantra. I've ordered it several ways, and all have been deeply satisfying. In the quabili pallow, a mound of lightly oiled brown rice sweetened with raisins and carrot strips hides bites of lamb. Even finer is sabsi chalow -- dark green and powerfully garlicky spinach draped over choice morsels of lamb. Of the kebabs, lamb races to the top of the heap (while ordinary chicken trails far behind). Vegetables tend to get the same kind of respect from the kitchen. Eggplant is cooked with onions and tomatoes until it collapses into a thick and satisfying stew, while pumpkin is chopped into bite-size pieces, sauteed, then baked and treated to tangy yogurt.

Faryab is not a complete joy ride. Depending on the day, the staff can be terse or helpful, and the long menu isn't as varied as you think once you start ordering and discover the repetition of flavors and textures. Still, it's a nice place to know about when your funds are low and you still feel like feasting.