Atmosphere: Simple but pretty. Relaxed attire. Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Friday; 5:30 p.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Price Range: $5.85 for stuffed green pepper to $9.50 for a combination platter of three different kabobs. Reservations: Not a bad idea on weekends. Credit Cards: Master Charge, Visa. Special Facilities: Parking in shopping center lot in front of restaurant; wheelchairs must negotiate one step to front of restaurant, but restaurant itself is accessible. No boosters or high chairs.
Before political events put Afghanistan on the nightly news, we had little curiosity about the culture of that country. Now we would like to know more, so hearing that Kabul Caravan served good Afghan food, we decided to try it.
Kabul Caravan, which opened last year in the Colonial Shopping Center, is a small and tastefully decorated restaurant. There are white tablecloths, fresh flowers and candlelight in small cut-glass lanterns on the tables, but the effect is not formal. Afghan carpets and scimitars, along with a few posters of Afghanistan, dot the white walls. The storefront glass window is camouflaged by a lovely willow screen and lush plants in baskets. Service in this family-run restaurant is courteous and attentive.
The food was some of the best we have had in recent months.In addition, it was unusual, and seemed refreshingly different, perhaps because it is not widely available. Afghan cuisine depends heavily on beef, lamb, yogurt, rice and fresh vegetables. Seasonings such as garlic, mint, cumin and cardamon create spicy, but not fiery dishes. Kebabs (beef, chicken and lamb) are the only items on the menu one might expect; everything else was different and delightful.
There are no special offerings for children, and kids may pale, as ours did, at the list of vegetarian dishes: eggplant with onions, tomatoes and yogurt; spinach in sauce with rice; sauteed pumpkin with yogurt. But there are other dishes, too.
Our two younger daughters ordered appetizers and salads, and another family near us, with five children in tow, ordered three full dinners with extra plates, another good solution.
At first, the girls couldn't find anything on the menu they wanted, but they knew they were supposed to be adventurous. Our 9-year-old daughters rose to the occasion by ordering the closest thing they could find to a hamburger: an appetizer that is Afghanistan's version of a turnover. The pastry was crisp, like an egg roll, and was filled with deliciously seasoned mixture of ground beef and chickpeas. Hot sauce was served on the side for dipping, but our girls enjoyed them without the hot sauce.
Entrees are served with bread and a small salad with a good house dressing.
A very popular dish at Kabul Caravan -- and rightly so -- is quabile palow, $6.95, a colorful platter of lamb covered with saffron rice. The rice is topped with crisp-cooked carrot strips, pistachios, almonds and raisins. The meat was tender and flavorful, and the whole dish a pleasure.
We also ordered aushak, $5.95, a truly distinctive Afghan dish, which is available as an appetizer in a smaller portion. The entree was a large plate of what looked like ravioli but it doesn't approximate the Italian dish in taste or texture. Aushak are featherlight, filled dumplings covered with yogurt, a sprinkling of mint and a wonderfully seasoned meat sauce. Children accustomed to eating Tex-Mex food would not find it too spicy.
We thought we should try one of Kabul Caravan's several kebabs and ordered kabab qaburgha, $7.95, three tender lamb riblets rubbed with garlic and seasonings and broiled with. It is served with chalow, rice steamed in broth, cumin and coriander. It was a fine dish, if less intriguing than the others.
For dessert, the girls had no trouble finding something familiar when we explained the Kabul Caravan's baghlauwa was exactly like the baklava they like so much. We also sampled a perfectly cooked, mildly flavored custard topped with almonds and pistachios. Each was $1.50.
By the time we had finished, every table in the restaurant was filled; they should be. We came in curiosity, but we will surely go again for pleasure.
Our total bill, including tax and tip, for five people was $47.57.