Last weekend, shortly before dinnertime, Dave brought up a meal we had last year that we both thoroughly enjoyed, at The Helmand. We were both craving that sort of food but in these next two months, I am doing my best to try as many new places as possible and not do repeats of places I’ve already been. I set about trying to find if there was another Afghani restaurant in Boston. My search immediately brought me to Ariana Restaurant in Allston.
We arrived early on a drizzly evening and were seated next to the window, looking out on Brighton Avenue. Once seated, our server arrived with the same flatbread and three sauces we had at The Helmand. I found the bread here to be superior-chewier and less dry than The Helmand’s. The yogurt sauce and green sauce, a mix of cilantro, garlic, chiles, lemon juice and vinegar, are excellent.
I was surprised to find that the menu as well as presentation was almost identical to The Helmand. I ordered the same entree I got at The Helmand, the vegetarian Special– a platter of baked pumpkin, pan-fried eggplant, sautéed spinach and okra sautéed with fresh tomatoes served with pallow rice. It is difficult to say how I would assess this plate differently had I not already had such a good version of this dish at another restaurant. I can definitely say that this was very very good, but The Helmand‘s was even better. Putting that aside for the moment, I thoroughly enjoyed this. The pumpkin was soft with a syrupy glaze, the okra tender with a rich tomato sauce, the eggplant silky with a smoky flavor. The hearty rice complemented the soft vegetables beautifully and the carrot strands on top were infused with a pleasant cardamom flavor. This dish was done well. In comparison though, The Helmand’s pallow rice was far superior, with a richer, more toasted flavor. There was also more of the excellent tomato and yogurt sauces on the plate at The Helmand. Despite all of this, I do want to reiterate that this dish was lovely and I would certainly recommend it.
Dave got the Aushak– ravioli filled with leeks and scallions, served on a garlic and mint yogurt sauce, topped with ground beef and mint. The star of this dish was the ground beef sauce, which Dave said reminded him of a bolognese, obviously with completely different flavors, taken to a whole new level. The ravioli had a mild allium flavor and provided a good base for the rich and spicy ground meat and tangy yogurt sauce.
One thing that sets the two restaurants apart are their settings. The Helmand is tucked away on a corner of East Cambridge in a large stone building. The interior feels like a temple or a museum, albeit with a large stone oven right in the dining room. We dined there on a cold, snowy night which made that setting even cozier. Ariana, by comparison, is located on bustling Brighton Avenue in Allston and is smaller. An entire wall of windows fills the space with natural light and allows diners excellent views for people-watching. There are a few pieces of art and traditional costume hanging on the walls, but the decorations are more demure. The table setup alone nicely adorns the space, with bright blue stemmed glasses and small yellow flowers to match the bold yellow walls. Service was delightful. We were there early in the evening before the restaurant became busy, and one gentleman efficiently took care of the entire dining room, from seating, to taking orders to bringing food and happily answering questions. I so enjoyed my experience at both, and even my preference for the Special at Helmand wouldn’t be enough for me to fully recommend one place over the other. In the end, if you are looking for Afghani food, I would say choose based on the settings, or whichever location is more convenient for you.
129 Brighton Avenue