Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Chicago Dining World Tour: A Finely-Woven Afghan Feast

Kabul House
4949 Oakton St., Skokie

What I ate: Kabuli (Qabili) Palau, Tomato-Lentil Soup

Eating, exploring and writing are three of my primary passions in life, so even if evidence showed that my Chicago Dining World Tour articles inspired absolutely no one else to try the restaurants spotlighted or any others of diverse ethnicities, I would still enjoy what I'm doing.

But as another of my foremost passions is sharing my passions with others, the fact that a friend was tremendously pleased by being introduced to Kabul House--a Skokie restaurant featuring the flavors of Afghanistan--is especially gratifying. Particularly as he was there dining with me, and didn't even need to wait for this piece to be posted.

This past Sunday, after seeing the Harold Pinter play, The Birthday Party at Steppenwolf--review here--my friend Bob and I were thinking about where we might grab some dinner. My wont lately is to explore the cuisines of different cultures (and then write about the experience), but nothing particularly exotic and convenient to the North & Halsted corridor was readily coming to mind.

So I suggested Kabul House, a restaurant I'd eaten at a few times and enjoyed--both at its current location on Oakton and a past incarnation on the east end of Dempster in Skokie; coincidentally there also used to be a location across from Steppenwolf-- but not for a few years.

We passed on any appetizers but both got complimentary soup in advance of our entrees, as well as some delicious homemade pita bread.

The Tomato-Lentil soup was enjoyable, if a bit too subtly flavored for my tastes.

For my entree, I got Kabuli (alternately spelled Qabili) Palau, which the menu describes as the "national dish of Afghanistan which is named after the city of Kabul. Tender pieces of boneless braised lamb shank that is served underneath Afghan rice which is then topped by carmelized carrot strips & raisins."

Kabuli Palau
It was terrific, with the rice being particularly fragrant and fresh, and the raisins adding a bit of sweetness.

Though nothing was lacking in its flavor as served, I was intrigued by a shaker of a purplish spice I couldn't even guess at.

The waiter informed me it was sumac, which he described as fresh ground pomegranate.

Sounded good, so I sprinkled some on my dish, and though the sweetness it added was faint, it certainly didn't hurt.

I also later added just a bit of a spicy green sauce the waiter offered us. It had a good and powerful flavor, but I was hesitant to add very much.

As for Bob, he ordered Murgh Chalau, "sauteed chicken cooked in onion, garlic & tomato base, served with a plate of white rice."

Two bites in, he was declaring it "really fantastic," and later rounded out his rave by saying that it was "very rich and very tasty" and that he would definitely return to Kabul House in the not so distant future.

While the lamb and chicken went over quite well for me and Bob, I should also note that the restaurant is a longtime favorite of my sister Allison, who is a vegetarian.

Typically indulging in the Vegetarian Platter, consisting of sauteed spinach, eggplant, cauliflower, pumpkin and rice, Allison likes Kabul House to the point of dubbing it the Gobble House--bad puns run in the family--because "everything is so delicious I gobble it all up."

Murgh Chalau
The waiter who served Bob and me on Sunday was excellent, particularly in patiently explaining things to me so I could jot them down, and even offering some welcome suggestions.

So if you're ever in Skokie, you might well want to try Gobble--err, Kabul--House. And chances are good that Bob, Allison and/or I would be happy to join you.

Heck, Bob might have gone back already and it's only Tuesday.

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