Posted by AFSHEEN101 on 5/3/2006
Dream of U.S. led to brothers' cozy Afghan eatery
Published: Friday, April 21, 2006, Re published in the UK Herts Observer 11 June 06.
Whats the story? Kadir Sultani dreamed of coming to the United States as a student in Kabul, Afghanistan, said his brother Kabir, even before war with the Soviet Union made life there unbearable. When the war started, Kadir went to Pakistan and Germany, eventually joining family members in the States, and worked in a cousin's New York restaurant for several years. Kadir Sultani eventually moved to less expensive Philadelphia, and opened his own restaurant in 2000. He called it Ariana, his homeland's former name. Kabir Sultani helps his brother run the eatery.
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The scene. A cozy storefront with mementos from Afghanistan, Ariana draws a crowd as diverse as its Old City neighborhood. On a recent Tuesday evening, a friend and I were seated among young couples, families, and a group of middle-age friends.
What we had. Unfamiliar with Afghan food, we weren't sure what to order. We began with the sambosas ($2.75), fried pastries stuffed with chick peas, potatoes and spices and served with a delicious Afghan sauce. The sauce, though a simple mixture of fresh cilantro, garlic, hot peppers and vinegar, was one of the best accompaniments I've ever had with an appetizer. For dinner, my friend tried the norange palow ($11.25), a sweet combination of basmati rice, almonds, pistachios, and orange strips soaked in rosewater and served atop chunks of lamb or chicken. The sweetness of the rice and oranges played well against the different textures of the chicken and nuts. I tried the lamb chop kabob ($13.75), a special that evening, tender and perfectly grilled with plum tomatoes, onions and peppers, served with brown rice.
Chef's suggestions. Chef-owner Kadir Sultani is particularly proud of his kabobs (lamb, beef, chicken and fish), which he says many customers tell him are the best they've ever tasted. Kabir Sultani also recommends the kabuli palow - strips of lamb or chicken with basmati rice, almonds, pistachios, carrots and raisins ($11.50). It's a staple at any Afghan celebration, and is Ariana's most popular dish, Kabir explains.
Nice touches. Kadir Sultani tries to reflect the various ethnic flavors of his homeland, and it shows in the variety of choices, including several vegetarian dishes. But my favorite touch is the personal service. On our visit, Kadir was out in the dining room, explaining dishes to uncertain or unfamiliar diners, checking on their food and service, and making customers feel more as if they were in his living room than an Old City BYOB.
After you eat. Get some culture! Stroll through some of the best art galleries in the city, or catch a show at the nearby Arden Theatre Company. Have room for dessert? Treat yourself to a scoop (or two) at the Franklin Fountain (116 Market St.). Or, for late-night diners (Ariana is open till 11 on weekends), check out some of the neighborhood's great nightlife.