Wednesday, November 17, 2010
A couple of weekends ago, my friend S took me out for dinner to celebrate my birthday. I love it when birthday celebrations are spread out over months!
She had asked me if I had ever been to The Helmand Restaurant in Cambridge. When I told her no, she said that we had to go; the food was amazing, that they did great things with pumpkin and that I'd really like the bread too. She was not wrong!
Oh, and she also said that the restaurant was owned by the family of Hamid Karzai, President of Afghanistan. According to this New York Times article, the restaurant is owned by his older brother, Mahmoud Karzai.
I didn't want to make this post political, but it's rather hard not to mention these things. Plus, as I was doing research for this post, I found that there was a Helmand restaurant in San Francisco. It looks like it might be closed now. And also, there is a Helmand Restaurant in Baltimore, Maryland. The name "Helmand" comes from Afghanistan's longest and most important river, according to the Cambridge restaurant's website.
Politics aside, the food, service, and decor of The Helmand Restaurant are beyond reproach. When we arrived, it was packed and we did not have a reservation. The hostess was very polite and said that they did not have any openings for close to two hours. But two people reserved a table and were due to arrive within the half hour. If they were late or cancelled, then we could have a table.
So we waited and somehow lucked out. The people showed up, but the hostess found us a table. And a very nice one. Not that all the tables aren't nice. This place is beautiful! So comfortable. Brightly colored with blues and yellows. Plants in the entrance. Unique art and wall hangings. An open woodburning oven where they cook their famous flatbread. It could not have been any more warm and inviting. I'm telling you. I did not want to leave this place!
Oh and let me apologize for the pictures. I'm still not completely used to my new phone and I used the camera phone. Obviously I have not mastered it yet.
So to the food! The appetizer was called Kaddo: Pan-fried then baked baby pumpkin seasoned with sugar and served on yogurt garlic. I would have been very happy to just have a huge bowl of that with the bread!
I loved the flatbread and wished that they brought us two baskets of it! We had entrees, which were really good too, but the pictures are not appetizing.
For dessert, I had rice pudding. It was stickier than what I'm used to, but I still loved it. And I love how it's served with pistachio and cardamom. What a wonderful combination of flavors and textures! It reminded me of the Semolina Custard that we made in my Indian Fusion cooking class.
Another dessert is called Bucklawa: Layers of homemake thin pastry with walnuts, almonds, pistachios, spiced with cinnamon and cloves, then baked and finished with honey caramel. I didn't have it, but looking at the description and the name, it reminded me of Baklava. When you look at the similarities of foods between countries, it makes you think about the history of each country and how each culture started making these foods. Using certain ingredients and spices. Fascinating!
The assortment of desserts makes for some difficult choices. There were so many that I wanted to try. They also have several specialty coffees and teas. And the already extensive wine menu includes several dessert wines.
If you want to really impress someone, like a business client, celebrate a birthday or anniversary, or just have a really good meal, go to The Helmand. Oh, but I would make reservations! Just to be sure.
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