2309 Calvert St. NW. 234-4632. Hours: Seven days a week from 5:30 to 11 p.m. Atmosphere: Ideal for a family's informal introduction to the wonderful world of Afghan cooking. Price range: Most of the intriguing main dishes run from $5.65 to $7.65, but there are some appetizers and other offerings that would suffice for small ones. Credit cards: Master Charges, Visa. Reservations: Not necessary but it might help, since this place is not exactly the size of the Capital Centre. Special facilities: Because the restaurant is on the second floor, access by wheelchair is extremely difficult. High chair and booster seats available. Parking is a game of chance.
Ever since our Family Out editors suggested that we return to the scenes of past repasts for some updates, there's been an active Afghan lobby in our midst-thumping hard for a second trek through the Khyber Pass.
Leading the charge for a return was our 12-year-old son, who fell in love with the place when we first dropped in back in late 1977.His sister, who is now 9, also had reveled in the fare then. As we commented in this column at the time, who would have guessed that our children would wind up wild about Afghan cooking?
Mostly this account is a kebab-tale, so stick with us if that strikes a fancy in your family. Before these and other memorable entrees, however, we began with a round of soft drinks and beer and a look-around to see how the establishment might have changed.
The look-around can be done in no time flat in this cozy second-floor room of maybe a dozen small tables. Little had been changed except the flowers-ever fresh-and the color of the tablecloths, from red to blue. Deep red and blue Afghan carpets and wall mountings of travel posters, jewelry and native costuming still add charm.
The costumes of the clientele included everything from dresses, coats and ties to jeans, sweaters and some decidedly experienced sneakers. Ages of the roomful of Monday night fans varied, too, starting with the 9-month-old daughter of a friend we encountered.
Ah, and such a worldly atmosphere-around us we could hear French, German and a smattering of South Arlington.
As before, a vast serving staff of two had all things under control. This time, though, there were four fewer furrowed brows during the menu-reading-for no longer was this cuisine mysterious to us. Votes for favorite dishes were being cast so swiftly that Robert's Rules of Ordering were imposed-namely, one voice at a time.
The appetizer debate ended in a split decision: The four of us would split two selections. an order of Sambosay Goshti, $1.35, divided up perfectly, not to mention quickly; there were four deep-fried pastries filled with ground beef, chick peas and a touch of parsley. Let it be recorded that the approval was unanimous.
Similar motions were made toward an order of Bulaunee, $1.50, which is a turnover stuffed with leek, potato and ground beef, with some yoghurt topping on the side (or on the top, if you like).
After agonizing over other tantalizing options, our son selected Kebab-e-Murgh, $7.50, which was just as sensational a chicken dish as it had been when our daughter tried it the last time out. On long skewers came an abundance of juicy, charbroiled boneless bites of soft chicken, done in a fine yoghurt-spice marinade.
All of this hovered over a generous platter of beautifully browned and spiced rice. Rice usually runs about 11th on our son's list of 10 favorite plate-fillers. But this, the report had it, was a notable exception.
Over the same kind of rice came a Lamb Kebab, $7.95, for our daughter. It, too, was an impressive production; each of two spears had four or five chunks of lean, grilled lamb so large that they needed to be cut in half; the spacings were juicy tomatoes that popped like red balloons before being ignored by everyone.
Now a word about Aushak, which comes in several forms, either as an appetizer or a main course. The word is good. My wife chose the dinner, $5.75, which is a leek-filled dumpling in ground-beef sauce with a hint of mint.
I tried Korma Chalow, $5.75, billed as a spicy beef stew. Our daughter, the family's self-proclaimed "spice detector," reported that it was not really spicy at all. Though a menu footnote tells you to let the waiter know "if you desire extra spicy food," I was content to cool it.
There was a big community bowl of lettuce, tomato and cucumber salad, which my three companions failed to dent even after the 12-year-old's double-dig. A mention, too of the Afghan bread, which looks like curved roof tiles but goes down a lot better.
The kids shared a $1.50 order of baklava for dessert, refusing all offers to trade bites for sips of coffee. Only after special pleadings citing the importance of second and third opinions in these professional exploratories were we accorded smidgens of courtesy.
For this whole Khyber Pass mountain of food the bill was $39.66 plus tip, an amount you could easily lower by skipping those appetizers, desserts and coffees that tend to jack up totals everywhere these days. For all our family's meanderings, however, the Khyber Pass remains sky-high on the list of places to visit.