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Photo: B.A. Nilsson

Afghan Exposure

By B.A. Nilsson

Purely from an anecdotal standpoint, I look at a diversity of ethnic restaurants as the key to a city’s health. In the Capital Region, Schenectady has long been the laggard. But a five-month-old Afghan restaurant is a mighty shot in the arm, tempting this culinarily-cautious clientele into new territories. Shrewdly, the place is located about an equal distance from downtown and Union College, not doubt hopeful that the latter will provide a doughty customer base.

Kabul Night is on Union Street, a couple of blocks east of Erie Boulevard, in the former Night Sky Café building. It’s a former storefront with its front door inset between a pair of presentation windows, now sporting tables.

The restaurant is owned by Karima and Shafi Rasoully, city residents for a dozen years and onetime owners of Arizona Pizza. They’ve bravely forsaken that simpler cuisine for the kabobs and curries of their native land, and they offer a menu rich in traditional manifestations of chicken, beef, lamb and a veggie variety.

The neighborhood is nothing special, giving the pleasant interior of the place the added charm of feeling like a retreat from the surrounding decay. Tables and chairs are dressed or draped in colorful linens, and the walls display an abundance of art and artifacts, including the famous portrait of Sharbat Gula.

And you’ll see the chafing dishes that are filled for the weekday lunch buffet ($8), served from 11:30 till 2.

There’s no liquor license as yet, so content yourself with coffee or a choice of tea. Or, if you’re a Philistine like me, a dreadful diet soda.

When I visited, on a recent weeknight, the place was nearly empty but steadily filled. The servers are attentive but decidedly unpolished. Still, smiles and sincerity go a long way and at no time were we unhappy with the pacing of the meal.

If you’re already familiar with Indian/Pakistani cuisine, you’re partway here. Chicken tandoori ($11.50) is a marinated meat cooked at a very high temperature and colored a disturbing crimson, which also characterizes the scarlet (but delicious) kabob murgh ($12), which gives you chicken chunks in a creamy, garlicky sauce over rice. Chicken shammi kabob ($12) is a ground-meat variant mixed with onion and spices before it hits the grill, then served over rice with a homemade chutney.

Kabobs have the most American face of the entrées, at least if you grew up as I did with the backyard grilling of skewered meat cubes and vegetables. But instead of the salad-dressing-as-marinade approach taken by my neighborhood’s kings of the Kingsford, Kabul Night flavors its kabob ingredients with more pungent spices, imparting a much more mouth-filling sensation. In terms of heat, nothing imperiously spicy is going on, but the palette of flavors is admirable. Kofta kabob ($13) is made with ground beef, like a kibbe; mix it with chunks of lamb (available alone as a lamb tikka kabob, $13) and it’s the $15 sultani kabob. Also available is a chicken shish kabob ($16) and a chopan kabob ($15), made up of four lamb chops. Varying combinations are offered for more adventurous sampling: Two manager’s specials ($18-$19) each boast a selected trio of the abovementioned.

Any meat seems healthier when thrown over a bed of greens. Here you can get lamb kabob over a garden salad ($10.50) or good old chicken breast ($10).

Savor the intricacies of Afghan cookery in the rice dishes. I enjoyed the qurma palow ($12), a subtle, flavorful bowl of rice with a mild, onion-rich lamb curry spooned over the top of it. There’s also a brown rice version (kabeli palow, $13) offered with chicken or lamb curry and finished with almonds and raisins.

More such rice dishes make up the vegetarian fare. Of the three $10 items, two feature tomatoes in the sauce (bindi palow with okra, and bonjan borani, an eggplant dish with a garlic sauce) and the other is a spinach-and-onions item called sabzi palow.

Afghan pasta is more of a dumpling than anything spaghetti-like, even in Schenectady; an order of ashak ($11) is filled with spinach and scallions, served with a yogurt sauce; mantoo ($11) has beef within.

There’s even a seafood dish: kabob-e-mahie ($16), featuring marinated salmon.

Before we get to the finish, here are the starters ($4.50 apiece): Pakawra (or pakora), which are batter-fried potatoes, and samosa, pastries filled with peas and potatoes, are familiar from Indian versions; unique to Afghan cooking is kadu borani, which reflavors butternut squash into an amazingly pungent, delicious delicacy.

For dessert—what else?—there’s baklava ($4.50). It’s richer and more potent than the corn syrup-sweetened domestic version, but still light enough not to obscure pleasant memories of the rest of the meal.

Interestingly, in the days following my visit to Kabul Night, two different friends raved about the place to me, each insistent that I should write about the place. It’s nice to make your friends happy.

Click here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.


TABLE SCRAPS

Tonight (Thursday) you should get yourself online and go to fsacollegestore .com, find the Ticket Sales option, and buy your way into the dinner-concert taking place at 6 PM on Monday (April 20). Your $60 secures a seat at a three-course meal crafted by Schenectady County Community College Chef Gerhard Moser, featuring butternut bisque, his signature roasted hen diab and a dessert of profiteroles. Carefully selected wine will accompany each course. This takes place at the college’s Van Curler Room, after which you’ll trot across the hall to the Lally-Mohawk Room for a concert by the Musicians of Ma’alwyck featuring music by J.C. Bach, Boieldieu and Spohr for violin, cello and harp. You need to reserve your seats now, and if the online option is too oppressive, call 377-3623. . . . Schenectady Day Nursery presents its 10th annual benefit, “A Little Bit of Jazz & More,” from 5:30 to 8 PM, April 30 at Proctors Fennimore Gallery (432 State St., Schenectady). Classé Catering’s menu includes jumbo shrimp, sesame chicken with crispy noodles, steak canapés with goat cheese, short rib sliders, potato rosti, truffle risotto cakes and more. And there will be a cheese display, tapas plates, two pasta station items and cookies and chocolates for dessert. The event also features complimentary beverages including beer and wine, and jazz by Colleen Pratt & Friends. Ticket are $50; reserve them by calling 573-0773. . . . Remember to pass your scraps to Metroland.



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