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Lapis (Formerly Napoleon), Modern Afghan on Columbia Road and Mintwood Place in Adams Morgan by the Owners of Cafe Bonaparte and Malmaison


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Can really rotten service ruin perfectly good food? YES, YES, YES! We went there to treat a neighbor for her birthday--my choice, if I'd had a say in the matter, would have been Cashion's. I could go into chapter and verse on what happened, but you wouldn't believe me. Too incompetent to be explained or believed. No, I didn't speak to the manager, since there didn't appear to be one. Just two waiters with exactly THREE tables to service between them. Suffice it say, they will never get another nickel out of me. Thanks, Napoleon, for wrecking a very nice person's birthday. Oh, and that free dessert nobody wanted? Shove in a place the sun don't shine.

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Can really rotten service ruin perfectly good food? YES, YES, YES! We went there to treat a neighbor for her birthday--my choice, if I'd had a say in the matter, would have been Cashion's. I could go into chapter and verse on what happened, but you wouldn't believe me. Too incompetent to be explained or believed. No, I didn't speak to the manager, since there didn't appear to be one. Just two waiters with exactly THREE tables to service between them. Suffice it say, they will never get another nickel out of me. Thanks, Napoleon, for wrecking a very nice person's birthday. Oh, and that free dessert nobody wanted? Shove in a place the sun don't shine.

This is a very polite way to describe the service. An advise I must give,..never ever order a martini at Napoleon Restaurant.. I had the most tasteless martini wich I ordered "Extra dirty", you all know!.. with " extra olive juice"..well I have to sadly say that mine didn't have a drop! I did not argue or requested another one, I knew it was coming because as I was requesting and describing the martini I wanted, the waiter looked at me like I was ordering the most extravagant drink in the restaurant.. So that tells me clearly that he and the bartender were totally clueless...

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Washington Post story about the owners changing Napoleon to an Afghan restauant. They expect to reopen on March 21.

For those who haven't been to Napoleon: this is good news. Napoleon *always* felt like Afghanistan doing a garish parody of France. Now, hopefully, we'll see some authentic cuisine.

(To those who think that Le Diplomate feels like America doing a garish parody of France: I don't have a response except it's like comparing Knoebels to Disneyworld).

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So I had leftovers waiting for me at home but resolved to drop into Lapis for a light meal to check it out yesterday evening...and I'm really glad I did.  The menu is detailed and interesting, and whoever is in charge of writing the descriptions for the items -- a legitimate skill! -- knocks it out of the park, making everything seem very appetizing.  There are a number of items that I'd be surprised if you could find on any other menu in the D.C. area -- everything's apparently based on family recipes, and it looks that way, with a varied and wide-ranging selection of Afghan dishes that nevertheless feels fairly cohesive (again, the menu layout itself is very well put together).

I ended up ordering the leek and cilantro bolani (a crispy stuffed Afghan flatbread served with a delicious green chutney and cooling yogurt) and the beet salad (menu description: beets, apple, lettuce, pistachio, olive oil, honey mustard vinegar dressing). The bolani was extremely tasty and by far the most successful of the two; the beet salad was fine, but it was mostly arugula and dressing (the beets and apples were thin disks at the base of the salad) and I didn't get much if any pistachio flavor at all.  To be fair, had I not been confining myself to lighter and smaller options, I could have taken one of the many recommendations from my charming bartender, who seemed genuinely enthusiastic, appreciative of, and knowledgeable about the food on the new menu.  (Among her favorites are the mushroom and pumpkin dishes, the chicken stew, and the gabuli palow rice dish; I'm planning to return very soon to sample some or all of these.)

Speaking of the bar, I was extremely impressed by the quality of the bar program there.  Not only was the bartender awesome, but she made excellent drinks from a well-curated and reasonably priced cocktail list (I especially recommend the Lapis Manhattan made with cardamom-and-something-else-infused vermouth), one which included a cool selection of housemade sodas and mocktails in keeping with Afghanistan's dry nature.  The available beers are also pretty interesting -- 3 Stars Peppercorn Saison and Sorachi Ace on tap -- and apparently have been selected to pair well with the food, and what I remember of the wine list looked thoughtfully curated too.  The people in charge of drinks at this place know their stuff, and that's something pretty valuable in a city that's still lacking very many low-key, neighborhood bartops where you can get a great, well-priced cocktail from someone who knows what they're doing and some fun conversation without having to make a reservation, pay $14 a drink, and/or wait forty-five minutes to be served.*  I'm very impressed by the Popal family's willingness to invest in a great bar program when they so easily could have made it another of the standard-issue vodka-and-macro-labels-heavy lazy carbon copy restaurant bars that so proliferate when a place has no reason to care as much about their beverages as their food.

In all, my strongest impression from last night was one of thoughtfulness, attention to detail, and clear passion in showcasing what they have to offer.  This is not a generic cookie-cutter "concept" from a restaurant group (nor is it a generic cookie-cutter concept from a family, as Napoleon might have verged into).  It's a comfortable yet modern neighborhood spot where a family is putting time and energy into doing quality things that you can't get very many other places in the city, and doing them with warm service and an eminently reasonable hit on your wallet.  D.C. needs more places like this.  I hope they keep up the high standards and find great success in doing what they love.

Anyway, yeah.  I'll be back.  Hopefully the rest of the menu is as good as it sounds.

(Reviewing meals is hard!  Much respect for all of you who do this on a continuous basis and provide so much excellent content for this site.)

*In my neck of the woods, off the top of my head there's Roofer's Union downstairs, Bourbon sometimes though I wish they'd change up their menu more frequently, Room 11 during off hours, Bar Charley during off hours, Jack Rose during off hours -- a pattern! -- and now hopefully the bar here.)

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Visited Saturday night.  The interior and the ambiance is lovely.  I really like the new decor.  Crowd-wise it was funny - many more older couples than you would ever have seen at Napoleon (I think all the foreign service/USAID folk who lived in Afghanistan in the last decade must be trying it out - me and my spouse included!).  So, less of a 20s party-time vibe than Napoleon, which is nice.

The menu reads well, and all the dishes sounded great, as did the cocktails and mocktails.  I ordered a gin/egg/cardamom cocktail and my husband ordered a cardamom mocktail.  We waited a while for our drinks and ordered when the waiter came back (without our drinks) several minutes later.   We then ordered several dishes - the Kaddo (pumpkin with yogurt sauce), the Aushak (leek dumplings), a beef kabob, a stewed bean dish, and a lamb stew and rice.  Our waiter was very pushy, and was an off-note for the evening.  He seemed aloof, while at the same time constantly upselling us - he was also distant, inattentive, and slow.  He also left the menus on the table, so I had to eventually drop them on the vacant table next to us.

Our food came out (well, 90% of it) within 4 minutes of ordering with still no drinks.  We started to eat and the cockatils came maybe another 10 minutes later.  So, total wait time for one home made soda and one cocktail was 20 minutes and the restaurant/bar was only 1/3 full.  The soda was excellent.  My cocktail was wan, weak, and not good.

The food, however, was excellent.  We had ordered dishes we know and love from other restaurants for the most part.  We ate everything except the kabob (which still had not arrived) and agreed that it was delicious, better than the Helmand in Baltimore, as good as the Helmand in Cambridge, MA.  My spouse, who lived in Kabul when Americans could still get around in the city, said it was all authentic and as good as what he had there.  When we were almost done with everything the kabob arrived, and it was delicious too.

We each had a dessert (cardamom custard for me, havla for him). The custard was better.  The havla could have used some honey on it.  All in it was $118, which seemed reasonable, except for the fact that the portions on the "mains" are TINY.  For my lamb stew, which was around $12, I got 1 piece of lamb.  1.  I was hungry later.  The appetizer and kabob portions were better sized.

The thing I didn't like was the service.  The tables are small, and everything comes in a small bowl/plate so it is important to constantly bus the table. That didn't happen, and we had to pile things up as we ate them.  The female server who stepped in a couple of times (when we sat for 15 minutes with dirty plates at the end of the meal as our server kept walking by) was really nice, so I think I just really, really did not like our waiter.

Reading this now it sounds negative, but we both had a good time, and liked the food and felt positively about the meal.  We will definitely go back, and hope for a different server.  Had we felt more taken care of we would not have cared about the size/value ratio of the food, as it was great.  It is a good addition to the neighborhood.

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Ate here for the first time tonight.  Between two of us we got:
 
Aushak(dumpling--vegetarian version)
Bolani( leek/cilantro and pumpkin stuffed flatbread)
Sabzi(spinach/leek/cilantro stew)
buranee banjan(grilled eggplant over yogurt w/tomato)
chopawn(grilled lamb chops served with onion salad, rice and "naan"))
naan
chalow--rice,butter,cumin
 
Service was attentive but server did not write down order--led him to forget naan for wife and our side order of chutney subz.  Reminded him and he brought them out--the chutney sabz was $3 for a thimble full of watery green sauce that had been provided gratis with my lamb chop and our two appetizers. I would not have ordered it if I knew it was already included with a number of other dishes.  It certainly was not worth 3 dollars in the quantity it was given.  The naan was interesting...  I have had afghan bread before and this was much different--it was a wheat bread, and was mildly sweet without much chew--it did not seem as though it was made in house
 
The lamb chop was excellent and was the highlight of the meal.  The vegetable dishes were not that great--definitely did not justify price point of restaurant.
Mentioned to the waiter that the $3 chutney sabzi was not worth the surcharge in that quantity--he simply said that he would let managment know...In short--would get the lamb chop as takeout since we live around the corner--but would not go there to eat in again.

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We stopped by for dinner recently and very much enjoyed it. We had bolani, mantoo beef dumplings, buranee kadoo, and morgh kebab. All very good. Kadoo is a particular favorite of ours and the version here is a little different than we've had elsewhere, with the pumpkin kept in large chunks instead of pureed, but cooked until is was soft and sweet. Very tasty with the yogurt sauce. We finished with the dessert special of the day, a pistachio and pomegranate cake. Delicious as well. More french with Afghan flavors, expected since the chef at Malmaison prepares the desserts. Topped with pomegranate seeds that were very well soaked in alcohol.

The dining room is very full, with as many tables as can possibly fit. When it's full, as it was when we were there, this makes for a bit louder background noise - you have to speak with a slightly raised voice to be heard across the table. But the space is inviting, the service is good, and the staff are very friendly. 

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