Statistics show that every 3.2 hours a new eatery opens up in Kendall Square. Okay, maybe that’s an exaggeration, but the neighborhood has been sprouting up new nom-spots at lightning speed and I have been trying my damned hardest to eat at them all at a similar pace — knocking Fuji, Kika and Art Bar off my list just last week. But let’s not forget about the places that have been in the Kendall Square hood for ages and are still as appetizing as ever! Including the little stretch of ethnic eats along First Street, which includes Thai, Mexican and Hello Helmand! An Afghani delight that is also ideal for our vegetarian friends.
Lavish Afghan rugs and artwork from the homeland decorate the restaurant while a crackling fireplace keeps things cozy, as if you’ve been transported to a different place entirely and yet feel completely comfortable at the same time. Having won awards for a great date night spot, Helmand is also incredibly accommodating to larger groups (which is what we were – a party of 6). Just don’t try showing up without a reservation!
After filling our glasses with some of the house red wine, which goes for a reasonable $25 a carafe, we started to peruse the menu. It’s covered in words no English-speaking citizen can understand, luckily everything has a description. The first thing to hit the table was the bread. The infamous flatbread arrives at the table still hot from the wood burning oven that faces the dining room. It’s paired with sides of butter, red pepper, cilantro, and yogurt for
Before filling up on too much bread, we decided to put in an order for some apps…
Starting with Kaddo – It’s a sweet baby pumpkin that’s seasoned with sugar then pan-fried then baked. Served with a garlic yogurt sauce and topped with ground beef, it’s a popular Aghani dish and one of the standouts on Helmand’s menu. Sweet and savory with all the right textures, don’t let yourself eat here without ordering a side of it. It can also be easily modified to accomodate your veg friends, just order it without the ground beef!
Next we tried the Mantwo, which according to the menu at Helmand is spelled Mantwo. However, According to everyone else (and Google) its Manto, but let’s let bygones be bygones. Similar to what one would call a “dumpling” or ravioli, Mantwo is a homemade pastry shell filled with onions and beef. It usually comes with yogurt and topped with carrots, yellow split peas and beef sauce. *Notice that almost everything comes topped with yogurt and beef sauce, and in no way is that a bad thing.
We also ordered Aushak, another Afghan ravioli, this one comes filled with leeks and scallions, served over a yogurt-mint sauce and topped with (you guessed it) ground beef sauce! Another great vegetarian option if you hold the beef.
For entrees there was the fish special Qoremay Ma-He. Seasoned with cumin and coriander, this fresh Sea Bass is pan fried then sauteed with onion, peeled tomatoes, garlic, ginger, sun dried tomato, radishes and potato. Served with a side of challow rice, this dish was fresh and delicious. A new combination of flavors I don’t normally mix together, I was pleasantly surprised by the burst of energy it brought to my palate. And unlike American restaurant specials, this one is not fleeting from the menu, it is always available!
And what would dinner at any Middle Eastern restaurant be without the presence of LAMB?! When it comes to lamb, the list of menu items is pretty endless, whether it be grilled, sauteed, baked or char-broiled. Some of our entree faves were the Chowpan (left) a half rack of lamb marinated, grilled and served on a bed of Afghan bread with sauteed eggplant and pallow rice. Cooked at a perfect medium, it’s tender to the point of melting in your mouth. Another favorite was the Lamb Lawand (right), a leg of lamb sauteed with onion, tomatoes, garlic, mushrooms, fresh cilantro, yogurt and spices served with sides of sauteed spinach and challow rice. Two entirely different dishes using similar ingredients, seasonings and sides, and although they were our top choices, nothing we ordered was dissapointing.
As authentic an Afghani experience as any, The Helmand is a perfect mix of enchantment, uniqueness and comfort (if that even makes any sense). And if the countless recommendations I recieved to go here, in addition to the numerous awards these guys have under their belt, are an indication of anything it’s that the bold flavors, quality food and helpful waitstaff are always consistent.
143 First St.