Monday, March 8, 2010

Afghan Palace Cuisine

Judy mentioned she read about an Afghan restaurant in Rancho Cucamonga. I thought we were going to take Nate there for his birthday dinner and so I read about Afghan Palace Cuisine on Yelp (then it turned out we went to a Pakistani restaurant instead). Afghan Palace Cuisine is located at 8685 Baseline Rd., Rancho Cucamonga (909-466-3723). The reviews were very mixed. There were quite a few five star reviews and a number of one and two star reviews. Some of the reviewers speculated that the five star reviews were being placed there by the owners. Many said the place was empty, it was dirty, the ambience was bad, the food was bad, etc. I decided that some of the reviews were so bad we wouldn't try it. Judy suggested we go out to eat for lunch on Saturday. We decided to take a chance on the Afghan food. She looked on the website and found a very positive review by the host of the Let's Dine Out show. We wrote down the foods he recommended and ordered them. We ended up having a very positive experience.

When we walked in at about 3:00 p.m. on a Saturday afternoon there were people at two other tables. After those couples left, we were alone. But that was okay. The owners were extremely friendly and attentive, telling us about the food, the ingredients, the murals in the restuarant, life in Afghanistan, etc. I love trying ethnic cuisine and learning about different kinds of food and cultures. This was perfect for that.

After reading some of the reviews, I was very pleasantly surprised by how nice it was. I was expecting a dump. The murals were not as cheezy as I expected. They related to Afghanistan and made it fun. Some Afghans riding horses.
As I understand it, this mural is of the Khyber Pass, which links Aghanistan with Pakistan.
Judy at a table with another mural behind her.
We were first introduced to chutney, a concoction of cilantro, red pepper, vinegar, walnut and sugar. We were told that the food was spicy and no extra salt or pepper was needed on the table. If we needed to season anything, the chutney is what we would use. It had the consistency of very wet pesto, but had much more of a kick. It turned out to be a wonderful condiment.
The first dish was eggplant barrani: grilled eggplant in a tomato, garlic, yogurt and bell pepper sauce. I am not an eggplant fan, but this was really good. The owner was right - the food was well spiced and I didn't ever feel the need for a salt shaker. This eggplant was unlike any dish I've ever had before. I don't even know what to relate the taste to - but it was very good. I was scooping any excess sauce off the plate. It had very bold flavors. Not spicy hot, but thick, salty and strong in a flavor that I can't describe.
Next we had mashawa soup: garbanzo, kidney and lintel beans, ground beef, yogurt sauce and fresh dill. There again, unlike any soup I've ever head. It was very dilly and there were lots of chunks of various ingredients. I didn't love the soup, but it was different and fun to try.
The spoon holding up some items from the bottom of the cup.
Then we had mantu: steamed pasta shells, ground beef and a yogurt garlic sauce. There again, totally unlike any dish I've ever head. The steamed pasta shells were very soft and palate pleasing, the ground beef and sauce combined with it well, and when adding the chutney, it was excellent. Again, the food was texturally pleasing, smooth and thick.
Then we got a combined kabob with both chicken and lamb, rice, some kind of lentils, hummus, a red sauce, like tomato paste and onion. The owner showed us how she combines the rice, hummus, red sauce, onion and chutney for a very nice mixture. Many of the reviews raved about the chicken. I thought it was good, but not something I would get again (I'm not a major chicken lover). The lamb, however, was fantastic. It was very lamby (strong flavored), which I love, and was still moist and juicy. It was good plain and also very good with chutney on it. I would go back just for the lamb.
We also got some zanarod rice: basmati rice with spinach and cilantro and a yogurt sauce to put on top. It was very good on its own. Judy really liked it with the yogurt sauce and I liked it with the chutney.
Finally, we got some baklava. It was different than any baklava I've had before. It was very wet, with a sweet syrup, and had quite a bit of walnut and pistachio in it. I've never really loved baklava, but this was as good as I've had.
So, my response to the question of how to rate the restaurant? It was not a place I would want to take a date for a romantic dinner. You don't blend in. You are center stage and the owners are talking to you regularly. But for what we went for - a cultural experience: to learn about the food and Afghan culture - it would be tough to beat. It made for a very worthwhile Saturday afternoon.

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