It was a little disconcerting to arrive at an Afghan restaurant and find a Morigi’s Pizza sign out front. Upon entering, proprietor Jawed Qayeum asked whether I wanted the Afghan or Italian menus. What was going on? Jawed explained that Morigi’s was open for 52 years and built a loyal following, so in addition to offering the cuisine of their homeland, he and his wife decided to continue cooking Joe Morigi’s dishes, using his recipes. The restaurant has been open for a year, following the success of the family’s sister establishment in Vancouver. They named their restaurant in honor of a “chopan,” an Afghan shepherd.
Jawed runs the front of the house and his wife Naseema is the chef. Their daughter Mena also lent a hand and was happy to tell us about her recent two-month trip to Kabul, an experience that sounded eye opening.
My friend acted under his assumption that you can determine the quality of a restaurant based on its soups, ordering the Soup of the Day ($3.95). Jawed brought us both bowls of lamb soup containing shell pasta and diced vegetables. Lamb bones and herbs supplied vivid flavor, and the single piece of on-the-bone lamb was surprisingly tender.
With our entrees, we were each entitled to a crisp iceberg salad with Italian vinaigrette. Slivers of cucumber, sliced tomatoes, garbanzo beans and sliced black olives rounded out the plate. It was a good salad, but when the meat started arriving, we quickly pushed it aside.
Ashak Dinner ($11.95) were ethereal steamed dumplings filled with leeks and coriander, blanketed with yogurt sauce, ground beef, dried mint and paprika. It was a colorful and delicious dish, similar to an exemplary ravioli.
Jawed informed us that Pakistanis and Indians cook their meats with a tandoor, but Afghans grill them. To sample a number of Chopan’s grilled meats, we ordered the Assorted Kebab ($12.95) dinner, which was shrouded in sesame-studded naan that was thinner and less puffy than its Indian counterpart.
After peeling back the naan, we discovered one skewer each of chicken, shami (ground beef) and tekka (shish) kebab. Since the menu features a shepherd, it was imperative that we sample his flock. As a result, we asked Jawed to substitute lamb for chicken. Jawed was feeling generous and decided to include both animals. The ground beef and orange-hued chicken chunks were tender and juicy, but the on-the-bone lamb and tekka kebabs were overcooked.
Ferney ($3.99) was the only dessert available, a chilled milk pudding stirred for one-and-a-half hours. The mild custard was supposedly mixed with vermicelli and almonds, but only crushed pistachios were in evidence.
With only two other Afghan restaurants in L.A. County, there must not be much local demand for Afghan cuisine. Or there may not be enough chefs to prepare it well. Either way, that’s a shame, since Afghan food an interesting mix of Pakistani and Iranian cuisine, made more appealing by Naseema’s skill in the kitchen.