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Faryab, Afghan Fine Dining on Cordell Avenue in Bethesda - Closed but Reopening

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Faryab in Bethesda. After a very, very, very bad day, Mr P was kind enough to bring me carryout kadu and quabili pallow for dinner. Not only are the flavor combinations in these dishes fantastic (pumpkin with yogurt and meat sauce; spiced lamb under brown rice, carrots, and raisins), the execution is always perfect. And they travel well.

edited to add: I knew Rocks would move this post from the "never discussed" thread.

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I've had three lamb kabobs in the past month or so, and the Kabob-e-Gousfand ($20.95) at Faryab was much better than the versions I had at both Bamiyan and Ravi Kabob. The lamb here is not halal meat, but the (personable, riotously cynical) owner told me he gets it "from Pennsylvania (*)."

Comparing Afghan to Afghan, I strongly preferred the Kadu ($6.95) at Faryab to the one I recently had at Bamiyan.

The Bulanee ($6.75, scallion-stuffed wonton-like turnovers) was as good as the Mantu ($6.95), which is a dryish but flavorful version of these dumplings with yogurt and meat sauce - a dish which is often served dripping wet.

You might not expect good beer at an Afghan restaurant, but the Wild Goose Amber Ale here was a very pleasant surprise.

Homemade Baklava ($5.95) was the one raging disappointment, tasting like it had been made days before. The pastry was soft and dried out, and the walnut filling was lifeless.

Faryab is relatively expensive, with appetizers around $7, entrees in the $15-20 range, and side dishes $6-7, but right now it would come to mind first if someone asked me for good Afghan cuisine in the DC area.



(*) I'm becoming convinced that restaurants say something comes "from Pennsylvania" in order to conjure up visions of Amish buggies and farmhouses tucked into rolling hills.

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In this economy, it was encouraging to see Faryab right at capacity as we dropped in for dinner around 8 last night, and over the next hour-and-change maybe a third of the seats saw another turn. It's been a few years since I've sat down to a table there, although I've had take-out on several occasions. The menu is typical for DC-area Afghan, which is to say neither as extensive nor as ambitious as the menu at Baltimore's Helmand, but offering the usual aushak, bulanee and sambusas to start, aush soup, and a selection of kebabs, simmered meats and mantu for mains.

The bulanee here is made with scallions which end up barely cooked, giving them a lively crunch but an acidic bite. They're tasty, but lack the balancing sweetness of bulanee made with leeks, as is traditional. Also, the round profile of the scallion bits tend to spill out of the bulanee pocket instead of staying put. Aush soup impresses with a wonderful aromatic profile (and this version is nicely laden with bite-sized chunks of vegetables) but ends up derailed by a heavy-handed dose of salt.

The Kabob-e-Gousfand remains excellent, even if the simple rice accompaniment seems a bit spartan. But Gubeen's Badenjan Goushti was the evening's home run, with tender chunks of braised lamb lurking under a rich melange of eggplant, onions, tomato, garlic slivers and olive oil. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that we both loved it, as the basic profile is the same as in Turkish Imam Bayaldi, but in this dish the flavors had melded in a way that only long, slow cooking can accomplish. The lamb used here is mild and un-gamey, which might not be authentic but should appeal to most diners.

The side of sabsi, aka spinach seasoned with onions and garlic, also manages to retain a fresh leafy color that neither Bamian nor Panjshir seem to capture.

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The area where Marriott is going is not the south side of the Bethesda downtown district where there are always parking problems. It's about 6 blocks north of the Metro station, next to the Tastee Diner. Even on Friday/Saturday nights, the garages in that area do not fill, and it's not even that hard to find a street spot. 

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