Laghatac, deygee and sheerberaing aren’t exactly Independence Day classics. In Kabul, maybe, but not in San Francisco, which is where we spent Fourth of July this year. Still, those dishes and more led to an unusual but satisfying pre-fireworks meal.
Helmand, named for a region in south central Afghanistan, originated in North Beach in 1989. An unfortunate landslide forced the restaurant to move west, to the former home of Yaya’s. The space still sports Iraqi accents, including a colorful mural of Babylon. Until recently, Daud Zaheer partnered with Mahmood Karzai on the restaurant, but now, Zaheer is flying solo.
Each meal at Helmand Palace begins with a basket of ridged ddoddei bread, served warm with trio of spoonable sauces: sweet chile, herbaceous cilantro and tangy yogurt.
My massive meal began with a bowl of Mashawa ($5.95), a hearty stew of mung beans, chickpeas and black-eyed peas. The tangy legume lover’s dream was drizzled with yogurt and dusted with dried mint. The only downside to the soup were the overly fatty chunks of lamb.
Aushak ($6.95) consisted of thin-skinned leek and scallion ravioli blanketed with garlicky yogurt sauce, spicy ground beef ragù and even more dried mint. Growing up, my family ate at Marco Polo restaurant in Summit, New Jersey, which had place mats that traced the famed explorer’s route from Italy to the Far East. This satisfying dish brought me back to that map and made me wonder whether this dish was a result of his journey.
Deygee Kabab ($14.95) was a great way to try a number of different dishes. The sampler platter centered on tender chunks of steamed leg of lamb sauteed with yellow split-peas, onion, red bell pepper and vinegar. The chef drizzled spoon-soft slabs of sweet pumpkin – kaddo – with still more yogurt. The plate even offered a mound of fluffy basmati rice folded with bits of spinach.
Laghatac ($5.95) further demonstrated Helmand Palace’s dedication to the vegetarian arts. Spreadable eggplant was sauteed with onion, tomatoes, pepper, garlic and turmeric. The zesty flavor profile was similar to what you’d find on a southern Italian menu.
My meal ended with a plate of Sheerberaing ($4.95) rice pudding accented with cardamom and crushed pistachio. The pudding smelled great due to cardamom, but the texture was clumpy and clung to my spoon.
Even finding an Afghani restaurant in the U.S. at this point can be a challenge. To have the meal yield bold flavors at such a reasonable rate was a bonus. Helmand Palace probably wouldn’t make my San Francisco shortlist, but the restaurant is certainly worth trying.