This is a probably a bit of a generalization, but there are a couple of pretty dependable rules of thumb for judging if an ethnic place is worth your time:
- A nicer looking restaurant probably doesn’t mean you’re going to get better food. Don’t ask me why, but when it comes to non-Western eats, the tastiest stuff tends to come from sketchy little hole-in-the-wall joints.
- This one is super obvious — a place filled with people who come from the country of the restaurant’s cuisine is always a good sign. If people who know what the real deal tastes like think the food is good, then the food is probably good.
Now, it doesn’t necessarily mean anything, but Naan and Kabob fails both tests.
For number one in particular, this seems like a particularly unfair complaint to make. What? Your restaurant is bright, clean, and stylishly designed? Ugh, no thanks. Kind of an insane critique, isn’t it?
Of course, arbitrary rules aside, the easiest way to determine if a restaurant is worth your time is to eat the food. Which I did, obviously.
I ordered the Qabuli Palau, Afghanistan’s national dish (according to Wikipedia, at least).
It’s pretty simple: spiced rice, topped with shredded carrots and raisins, and served with meat (in this case, braised veal, though you can upgrade to lamb for a couple of bucks). They also serve it with a bowl of chicken curry on the side.
It’s not bad. The rice is a little bit bland, and the sweet carrots combined with the even sweeter raisins makes for a dish that’s a bit more cloying than it probably should be, though the savoury chunks of braised veal help to offset some of the sweetness. However, while about half of the meat was unctuous and fork-tender, the other half was stringy and dry.
There’s the curry, too — and it’s not bad — though to be honest, I’m not sure why it was even there. It felt a bit out of place with the other flavours in this dish.
The whole thing is decent enough, but I can’t imagine anyone walking out of the restaurant raving about it.
Maybe there is something to those generalizations after all…