Kabul (541 State St.) faces fierce competition from the countless other Mediterranean restaurants downtown, yet has maintained a solid reputation for tantalizing kebabs, smooth hummus and comforting curries and stews.
This small establishment prepares a fusion of Afghanistan and Mediterranean dishes, with a heavy emphasis on spicy and flavorful preparation.
Inside, the atmosphere is eclectic-causal. This welcoming, locally-owned establishment offers diners the option of booth, standard-table and seasonal outdoor seating. The walls, adorned with photographs of Afghanistan and the Mediterranean, aged weavings and musical instruments, create a cozy environment.
Our journey to Kabul began with a complementary basket of fluffy, homemade bread accompanied by a duo of roasted red pepper and cilantro chutney. The cilantro, though, was a bit too piquant for our liking.
The menu has a short list of appetizers. The Hummus ($3.50), a simple and tantalizingly creamy puree of chickpeas, tahini, salt and pepper, garnished with a small dabble of mint-cucumber yogurt sauce, far surpassed that of neighboring kitchens. Another winner was the Ashak ($9.25), a plate of beef and scallion stuffed dumplings also served with mint-yogurt sauce.
The entrée portions are far from modest and reasonably priced; each main dish includes a choice of salad or Mashawa soup. The salad, a base of romaine lettuce, topped with shredded carrots, red cabbage and a creamy curry-cucumber dressing, comes highly recommended. The heavy Mashawa soup, a mix of chickpeas, split peas and meat garnished with a dollop of yogurt sauce, resembled a spicy chili. This would be the ideal cold-weather starter.
The headliner was the Murgh Kabab ($11.25), two skewers of tender chicken, green peppers, onions and cherry tomatoes, served over buttery saffron rice with a side of yogurt sauce.
Similar in preparation to the Murgh Kebab, the Beef Kebab ($11.50), two skewers of grilled beef and vegetables, arrived over a generous amount of saffron rice. But unlike the juicy lean chicken, the beef was unfortunately chewy, dry and merely brushed with garlic, not marinated, as promised on its menu description. Perhaps the meat lost its flavor under fire. The yogurt sauce served as good last minute savor to an otherwise tough kebab. If you order this dish, request it medium-rare.
The loser entrée was the Mahi ($10.50), a stew of catfish, mushrooms and white potatoes sautéed in a tomato-basil curry and served with a side of hard, under-cooked white rice. The dish consisted of a plentiful amount of fish but only a few pieces were thick and flaky; the vast majority of were scaly cuts soaked in a bland curry, seasoned with far too much pepper.
The service at Kabul was brusque. After dropping off our entrees, the waiter failed to check-in with our table. He seemed overwhelmed by the high volume of diners. At the close of dinner, we had to beg for our check and waited several minutes for change.
Overall, Kabul serves a creative list of appetizers and entrees. And despite the over-cooked beef, the unappetizing Mahi and the inattentive waiter, I'd recommend a visit to Kabul for the Murgh Kebab, a guaranteed palate pleaser. Kabul has a talented but inconsistent chef. If you choose the right plates, you may enjoy yourself.