Thursday, October 06, 2005

Khyber Pass

Usually I don’t link with other web sites except to illustrate a point, but in the case of Flying Spaghetti Monsterism I think I’ll make an exception. Good for a few grins.

Around this time last year, I visited a Tibetan restaurant called Tsampa in the East Village on the recommendation of my friend Geof Huth, who visits New York City more often than I do (see Oct. 7 & 8, 2004). This year, I didn’t have any special recommendation in mind for lunch on Friday, but I thought I’d go to roughly the same neighborhood as I did then, walk around, and find something that looked interesting.

That kind of strategy doesn’t always work. But luck was with me. I rounded the corner from 2nd Avenue onto St. Mark’s Place, which is really a continuation of East 8th Street, and jammed restaurants, bars, shops and small businesses with offbeat appeal, mainly but not only for youth. I’ve read that the street was once a good deal seedier, and that people complain of its gentrification, as if an urban area can’t be interesting and relatively safe at the same time.

Almost immediately I saw Khyber Pass, an Afghan restaurant at 34 St. Mark’s, small old building sporting a few caryatids. A brief look at the menu, and that decided it. Inside it seemed dark at first, but that was only my reaction to going from sunshine to dark wood floors, red walls and dim lights. All sorts of things hung on those walls, including rugs, plates, musical instruments I took for Afghan, tassels and a large print of the famous National Geographic cover photo of the Afghan girl with the haunting eyes. There was also, oddly, a cuckoo clock on a far wall, with a big brass samovar (idle-looking) nearby to keep it company.

I can remember visiting an Afghan restaurant only once before, about 20 years ago, a place on the North Side of Chicago near Belmont Blvd., long gone now. Much later I learned that it was owned by relatives of Mohammed Karzai. I vaguely remember it being exotically good.

For an appetizer, I ordered mantoo, a steamed dumpling filled with beef, onions and various spices, topped with a yogurt sauce, which went very well with the mint tea I was drinking. It was shaped something like ravioli. Afghanioli, maybe.

The menu described shireen palow as “an exotic rice dish cooked with orange peels, saffron, almonds and pistachios, served with charcoal-grilled Cornish game hen.” The meat was plenty tasty, but the saffron rice with a strong orange favor outdid it by a culinary mile. Worth going to the Khyber Pass to eat.

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At 10:04 PM, Blogger Geof Huth said...


Dang, I should've given you more restaurant recommendations, because if I did Khyber Pass would've been one of them! Nancy, Erin, and I ate there last July--sitting on the "couch," the place in the window with the short-legged table designed for cross-legged eating.

All the food was good, and I was reminded of Tibetan food when I was there. Tibetan and Afghani food have obvious similarities to Indian food. (I usually call Tibetan food a hybrid of Indian and Chinese, for instance.) But with Afghani food the connection to Indian food is even more obvious: the names of the dishes sound like the names of Indian dishes when spoken into a cardboard tube.

For the record, a great restaurant to go to in NYC (tho quite a bit pricier and reservations might be necessary) is Molyvos, the best Greek restaurant I've ever been to, and I go to every Greek restaurant I can find. It's on 7th Avenue (I think), just south of Central Park. Well worth a visit. I had my best meal in NYC there one night.



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