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  • Reservations Recommended

    Restaurant Review ~ Bistro Aracosia /5100 MacArthur Blvd ., NW

    Capturing a prominent Palisades neighborhood corner location, once held by another eatery, newcomer Bistro Aracosia showcases Afghan cuisine in a strikingly elegant setting. And it seems that both décor and food — as well as a very courteous staff — are making a big splash with its exotic fare. If a recent lunchtime experience is any indication, it is the new go-to place along MacArthur Boulevard.

    For newcomers to the setting, management has provided two classy, comfy dining areas with overhead lighting and ample seating in both sections — a good thing, since mealtimes (at least, lunch) gets a bit crowded. Suggestion: make a reservation. The main dining area also offers seating at the bar, and a narrow entry hallway also has squeezed in some seating as well. That says a lot about this newcomer to the scene.

    Besides the inviting décor and the welcoming staff, the really big draw is the food. Yes, the metro area does offer several Afghan eateries, but a glance at the listing suggests most are kabob destination that’s fine, but for patrons hungering for more elegant eats, Bistro Aracosia takes on that challenge.

    Of course, most Westerners probably have not sampled aushak (leek and scallion dumplings) or baadenjaan chalou (a roasted eggplant dish). But the kitchen here can satisfy even the most puzzled patron’s appetite with surprisingly tempting fare. Even the basket of warmed pita slices that come first with little jars of differing hot or mild sauces will put everyone at ease.

    Consider appetizers: carrot slaw or charbroiled marinated lamb tenderloin are recognizable, but why not step outside of the comfort zone for a start of boulanee (potato and leek turnovers) or pumpkin dumplings or the kadoo turnovers. These come as four pastry triangles — the pastry shells are delicately crunchy — filled with a purée of sweetish roasted butternut squash. If one chooses, they can drizzle over top some of the dipping sauce condiments.

    Main course choices are extensive, from salads and sandwiches (including a beef or salmon wrap), to vegetarian dishes, and finally, an array of kabobs and chops. Among these, chicken, lamb, and beef are the prominent choices though broiled chunks of marinated salmon show up. Veal, too, comes in various forms, including a yogurt-based stew with garlic.

    But scanning back up the menu takes you to the array of interesting vegetarian fare, and among these baadenjaan karahi is a star: a rich stew of roasted eggplant and spicy tomatoes are spooned over a mound of basmati rice — and not one grain of rice sticks to another. The portion is very large, probably enough for two, but leftovers can head home as well.

    Desserts are a must – cakes, rose water ice cream and rice pudding are choices, but the star of the show may well be the cook’s version of firni, a creamy-custardy Afghan pudding sparked with cardamom and crushed pistachios. Delish!

    Bistro Aracosia / Mon.-Sat., lunch (except Mon.) & dinner; Sun., closed. (202) 363-0400.

    Alexandra Greeley is a food writer, editor, and restaurant reviewer. She has authored books on Asian and Mexican cuisines published by Simon & Schuster, Doubleday, and Macmillan. Other credits include restaurant reviews and food articles for national and regional publications, as well as former editor of the Vegetarian Times and former food editor/writer for the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong. Click here to visit her website.