An Array of Afghan
Kebabs, and a Tilt Toward India
By Stephanie Lyness
Reviewed March 4, 2007
GIVEN that Afghanistan lies at the crossroads of India,
China and the Middle East, we might well expect the food to
reflect all of those influences. But, aside from the kebabs,
what a meal at Shish Kebab House most brings to mind is a
quieter version of Indian cuisine.
The restaurant’s West Hartford location, which opened in
August 2006, replaced the original Shish Kebab House on
Franklin Street in Hartford. For those who knew the old
place, the menu here is the same.
A collection of kebabs, which arrive off the skewer,
accompanied by a generous portion of rice pilaf and a
vegetable, are at the core of the menu. A kebab is such a
simple thing: meat, poultry or seafood that is seasoned
(perhaps marinated) and cooked with dry heat. But it is this
very simplicity that is difficult for the cook to achieve.
There is nothing to hide tough meat or ill seasoning.
All of the kebabs that my guests and I have eaten here, with
the exception of a rather strong-tasting swordfish, have
been exceptionally good. The lamb, offered either as chunks
of leg or slices of loin on the bone, was particularly
delicious. Well seasoned with spices that enhanced the
flavor, both cuts were very tender when I tasted them,
despite being cooked to medium.
While somewhat chewier, the beef kebab was equally tasty and
splendidly meaty. The chicken was tender, not dry, and more
flavorful than usual.
India enters the scene with the pilafs, vegetables and some
of the appetizers. According to the menu, the pilafs are
made with a particularly fine long-grain rice from the south
of Afghanistan. “Brown” rice pilaf (the rice turns golden
brown in the cooking — it is not unhulled) is mildly
flavored with cumin. The kabeli palow is scented with both
cardamom and cumin, and garnished with raisins, almonds and
sweetened julienne of carrot. In both, the delicate grains
of rice are dry and separate from one another, and very
reminiscent of an Indian pilaf.
Each kebab is served with a choice of vegetable (vegetarians
can order an additional one in lieu of meat). I particularly
liked both the mushrooms, sautéed with thickly sliced onion
and chunks of tomato, and the savory, dark orange pumpkin
purée, the candylike sweetness of which is balanced by a
pleasant tartness and a little heat. Potatoes and spinach
are perfectly pleasant if more ordinary, but I found the
thick rounds of eggplant — steamed, fried and topped with
yogurt — too heavy and tasting of deep-fry oil.
Appetizers are a fascinating mix for those unfamiliar with
the cuisine. Samosas are crisp, deep-fried triangles stuffed
with potatoes and served with a spicy cilantro dipping
sauce. Mantoo are steamed dumplings, wrapped in a thin,
delicate dough and filled with meat that has been cooked
with coriander and onion; the dumplings are topped with
tomato, homemade yogurt, yellow split peas and dried mint.
Ashak are a slightly different version of the same, filled
with spinach and scallion, bathed in tart yogurt and a spicy
tomato sauce, dotted with ground beef, yellow split peas and
dried mint. Less exciting were pakawra, wedges of potatoes
that are battered and deep-fried.
Pea soup is a homey puréed concoction based on tomato,
seasoned with garlic, coriander and a little cayenne. And
the salads are enormous, whether you choose a lemon or
yogurt dressing, both with little or no oil.
A couple of the desserts are first-rate: The fernee, an
Afghan rice pudding flavored with cardamom and rose water
and topped with berries, is a dead ringer for the Indian
rice pudding kheer, and baklava is a pleasingly dry and
chewy rendition of the walnut- and honey-layered phyllo
An unexpected pleasure, discovered at my first meal here,
was the Afghan tea called sher chai, a milky, spiced tea
that closely resembles Indian chai (though without the
sumptuous richness of the buffalo milk) — a fine end to a
satisfying meal at a reasonable price.
Shish Kebab House of Afghanistan
36 LaSalle Road
THE SPACE The ground floor has a bar and a small
market with rugs (some very good quality) and groceries; the
dining room is on the second (elevator allows wheelchair
THE CROWD Mostly older, casually dressed; very few
children despite a children’s menu.
THE BAR Full bar with small, reasonably priced wine
THE BILL Dinner entrees, $15.95 to $26.95; $31.95 per
person for an Afghan feast that includes a mix of
appetizers; one dumpling; seafood, beef, chicken, and lamb
kebabs; all vegetable sides; kabeli palow and spinach rice
(four-person minimum). Most credit cards accepted.
WHAT WE LIKE Samosas, mantoo, ashak, pea soup,
salads; beef kebab, leg of lamb kebab, lamb loin chops,
chicken kebab; pumpkin purée, sautéed mushrooms, “brown”
rice, kabeli palow; fernee, baklava, Afghan tea.
IF YOU GO Lunch: Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to
3 p.m.; Dinner: Monday through Thursday, 3 to 10 p.m.;
Friday and Saturday, 3 to 11 p.m.; Sunday, 2 to 9 p.m.