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Ariana Afghan Cuisine restaurant review, Sandy Springs

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If I may make a suggestion: We should all start calling the stretch of Roswell Road just north of I-285 “Flatbread Row.” All the best restaurants serve these hot-from-the-oven loaves. They come as big as Monopoly boards at Persepolis Persian Cuisine; they’re pocked with undulating bubbles and cut into elegant wedges at Rumi’s Kitchen; and they take the form of blistery Old World pizzas at Double Zero Napoletana.

John Kessler is the chief dining critic for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

John Kessler is the chief dining critic for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

I love them in all these iterations, but none as much as the terrific nan-e Afghani at the new Ariana Afghan Cuisine. Unlike any other flatbreads in town, the thick whole wheat loaves prepared by owner Jalil Aziz arrive as coarse and pitted as your grandfather’s unshaven cheek. They are crackly and crusty on the surface but steamy and soft inside, like the best yeast rolls you’ve ever had. They are glorious when they arrive hot and sided by a creamy herbed yogurt chutney for dipping — even better once you factor in a dish of the fantastic buranee kadu ($4.99), sweet pumpkin cooked to mush with tomatoes, spices and yogurt.

As far as I know, Ariana is only the second Afghan restaurant in metro Atlanta. Like Duluth’s Shami Kabab, this spot serves a concise menu of dumplings, kebabs, rice dishes and unusual Afghan-style vegetables. The food, which brings Persian cooking to mind, is easy to like and easy to relate to. If you’re a fan of the cuisine — let’s say you’ve had a near-religious experience eating smoky grilled meats and supple dumplings at an Afghan restaurant in another city — this tame and well-mannered spot may not quite replicate your fond memories. But I think you’ll walk away feeling sated and happy.

Buranee kadu: sweet pumpkin with yogurt (photos by Becky Stein)

Buranee kadu: sweet pumpkin with yogurt (photos by Becky Stein)

That makes it the perfect place to drag a spouse or significant other who has less adventurous tastes in international food and hasn’t quite forgiven you for the cold, spicy pig kidney at that Sichuan Chinese restaurant. The setting — in a standalone building hard by I-285, with a patio overlooking the interchange — has that “nice restaurant” feel that transcends ethnicity. Think poly-cotton-blend tablecloths, water goblets, waiters in uniform, thick menu slipcovers and a house napkin fold. The concise beer and wine list is a better than you’d expect, if a bit less that you’d hope for. Still, a Blue Moon white ale would go down nicely with this fare.

You’ll want to load your table with as many appetizers as will fit on it. That pumpkin, both sweet and savory, stars. Buranee bedenjon ($4.99) — custardy chunks of eggplant with tomato, yogurt and dried mint — comes a close second, particularly when you give it a shake of salt. You’ll also want to score a dish of the house red chile sauce for its prickly heat and acidity.

Manto - dumplings filled with beef and onion

Manto - dumplings filled with beef and onion

And don’t miss manto ($5.25), which are plump, sheer-skinned dumplings. Folded up like Revolutionary War hats, they arrive painted with yogurt and tomato sauce and gush with a filling of chopped beef and onion. However, the kitchen has decided to update the traditional recipe for aushak ($5.25), the leek-and-scallion dumplings that are often the hallmark of a good Afghan restaurant. Here they come fried, which are tasty in a cocktail-bite way. But I think I’ll keep going to Shami Kabab for my fix.

Although entrees come as individual servings on stylin’ square plates, you’ll want to order a variety of kabobs, stews and vegetables to share and pass. Tender pieces of stewed lamb hide under a pilaf of brown basmati rice, sweet carrot shreds, raisins and almonds in qabali palaw ($16.95), a dish that, like the pumpkin, blends sweet and salty flavors with notable finesse. Sabzi chalaw ($15.95) plumbs the same lamb in a damp, one-note spinach stew.

Chicken karahi - you can get it boneless (as pictured or - better - on the bone

Chicken karahi - you can get it boneless (as pictured or - better - on the bone

Ground beef kabobs ($15.95) feature individual oval meatballs (more like Moroccan kefta than the long ribbons of Persian koubideh), and if they don’t exactly sing with the flavors of onion, cumin and char, they’re perfectly tasty. My own taste goes more toward chicken karahi ($13.95), chunks of bone-in chicken served on a sizzle platter with onions and peppers. Each bony morsel tingles with ginger, garlic and chile.

For a gas, you should finish the meal with czala ($6.45), a kind of sundae made from shaved ice, wiggly cornstarch noodles, rosewater syrup, ground pistachios and three scoops of vanilla ice cream. I heartily enjoyed it with the floral green tea that ends a meal here. You may find it akin to eating lipstick, but I think you’ll be happy you tried it.

When you find yourself on Flatbread Row, remember this place.

Ariana Afghan Cuisine
5785 Roswell Road, Sandy Springs, 678-732-0746
2stars5Food: Afghan kabobs, dumplings and stews
Service: Very gracious
Best dishes: Manto, buranee kadu, chicken karahi , qubali palaw
Vegetarian selections: Yes
Credit cards: All major
Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays; 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays; 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Sundays.
Children: Not a problem
Parking: Self-parking in lot
Reservations: Yes
Wheelchair access: Full
Smoking: No
Noise level: Moderate
Patio: Yes
Takeout: Yes
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8 comments Add your comment

M. Johnson

May 24th, 2012
11:39 am

Great job…as usual. I want that pumpkin dish…right now. Wish they would share the recipe.

AS

May 24th, 2012
12:29 pm

Having been to Afghan restaurants in other cities, I have to disagree. Food is average, overpriced, and low on quantities. It will have to compete with the nearby Persian restaurants for most diners who are looking to try something different and I’m not sure it will be able to do so.

Brian

May 24th, 2012
12:56 pm

On a different but related note, Fanoos right up the street has made some recent changes. They are now serving lunch “table buffets” which are INCREDIBLE. They realized the damage that steam tables will do to food over the course of a lunch service and now everything is prepared fresh per table and the difference is amazing. Monday was the first time I’d been there in a long time and I was very impressed.

I’m looking forward to trying Ariana, thanks for the fair review John K

eatoutatlanta

May 24th, 2012
2:51 pm

Afghan food, music, TV, ETC is Indian and Persian food….

Sarah

May 24th, 2012
7:34 pm

what a great new restaurant. The food is great and this article was spot on. Support your local business’s people!

NSK

May 25th, 2012
12:46 pm

This is a great review. Thank you John. I’m a big fan of Afghani food in general, and I’ve made the trek out to Duluth from midtown more times than I like to recall. Glad that there’s an alternative closer to home.

And to the ignoramuses: Afghani food is not Persian food. That the countries share a border doesn’t mean the food is the same. Most American have no idea Afghani food even exists, let alone what it’s like. That some Afghani restaurants try to serve Persian and Indo/Pak dishes confuses diners even more. The name Shami Kabab doesn’t help.

LAL

May 25th, 2012
8:43 pm

Oh boy. I haven’t had Afghan food since I moved back home to Atlanta! I’ll have to try both of these out! Thanks for the heads up.

John

May 28th, 2012
11:33 pm

Wow thanks for the review . I went and checked the place out and the pumpkin was awesome ! Ive been to Afghan restaurants ik other cities and this was the besy one yet. The food is great and the decor is very relaxing. Great service too. Support your local restaurants ts people!!!!!!!!