Thursday, October 05, 2006

Baltimore- The Helmand

After a bone-wearying day of smelling sesame oil fuse with soy product and squabbling colleagues I decided to go out to a reggae concert, by members of the band, who stopped by twice and urged. My usual protocol on business trips does not involve barhopping or salsa dancing late into the wee hours. But tonight with a start time of 10 p.m. in the know i set off to begin my evening. After a dismal meal of Maryland style crabcakes a few nights before, I had heard the name of The Helmand uttered twice in the short three day span that I had been in Baltimore:

"It's one of the best Afghan restaurants in town."
"The owner is brothers with President of Afghanistan Hamid Karzai."

Worth a peek and sure to take my mind off of the day's woes, I set out for the Mount Vernon neighborhood in which it resides. Along the way the cabbie pointed out the architectural detailing visible in the night, gargoyles, interesting doorknockers. There was such a sense of history and place in this city that I hadn't expected, unfortunately connoting it with high crime and the Orioles previously.

We rolled up to The Helmand which from the outside doesn't look like much, but this was where my evening's adventures would begin. Since I hadn't made a reservation and the wait list was an hour and a half long, I happily sauntered over to the bar, where a woman, also working the same food show during the daytime made some recommendations of notable menu items. I took her lead.

I decided upon two appetizers and a salad, in place of a large entree, so I could try more dishes. The salata featured mixed greens, tomatoes and red onions in a perfect balance of tart and sweet in their pomegranate vinaigrette. After a long day of noshes and not much else, this was a great way to whet the palate. Next came the main foci of my attention. Instead of ordering it vegetarian style, the bartender brought out the Aushak in the traditional way. Filled with leeks, this ravioli is topped with a meat sauce and dabbed with a minted yogurt concoction, that altogether combined the crisp notes of peppermint with the cooling of yogurt as balancing elements in the otherwise spicy, savory dish. In place of dessert, my second appetizer filled the role well. Kaddo Borawni consisted of a plate of baby pumpkin that is at the same time both sweetened with a little sugar and then topped with a yogurt and garlic sauce. With every bite, I tried to discern if the savory was more pronounced or the sweet, until I noticed my plate was empty. Never a bad sign.

The Helmand labels itself as "fine Afghan cuisine" and I would second that, knowing if I lived in Baltimore, this could quickly become a favorite haunt, since one stomach could not engage in all the enticements noted on their varied menu. I left with a full belly and a renewed sense of vigor, deciding to walk the 12 blocks to the reggae concert with verve of youth in tow.