Just about one year ago, our “gang” met in Astoria on a cold January night. I was laid up with a post-holiday stomach thing and had to bow out. Instead, Zio was assigned to report on the meal. What follows is his interpretation of the dining experience that night.
Balkh Shish Kebab House
2310 31st St
There were still some leftover glaciers under the el on Thirty First Street, remnants of the holiday blizzard. For a very short time the snow was pristine and white . Now as it melted and refroze it resembled an ugly kind of frozen gravy, riddled with dog piss holes and fossilized cigarette butts. Above me, the N Train crashed by and I thought of young Michael waiting for the same noise before shooting the veal parmesan out of Sterling Hayden’s throat.
I guess I felt a little nervous. my thoughts were on the grim side, after all, Balkh Shish Kabob House was my first restaurant selection without Neckbones’ help and to boot he was AWOL. How friendly could the Afghani staff be when our military was sniffing around their country? I began to pace up and down the street checking the time every thirty seconds. I was sure nobody was coming at 6:59.
One minute later, they all showed up, snapping me out of my anxiety spiral. The waiter seated us in a comfortable, secluded corner at a big round table near a huge hand painted map of Afghanistan, outlining all the regions. Eugene was quick to comment on the pleasing temperature of the room, maybe sensing my hopefulness.
We decided to pick four appetizers. , all of them were served with minted yogurt sauce. We knew to skip the samosas and ordered two kinds of dumplings. One was “manto,” beef meat dumplings with curry sauce and yogurt, the other was “aushack,” this was boiled and filled with scallions and herbs. Mike from Yonkers made it clear he would steer clear of the “bandanjan borani,” fried eggplant, and the “borani kadu,” fried pumpkin with homemade sauce. We ordered them anyway. These were fresh tasting and personally I would almost eat anything in dumpling form.
While we were deciding what to order from the Balkh Special entrees list, we got help from the cook (I think), who said he would feed us like “An Afghan Family”. This took the pressure off and also gave us hope that we would have an authentic eating experience.
While we waited for the slaughter of the lamb, we heard the praying begin with earnest devotion. We countered the discordant chants with ramblings of our own which ranged from our favorite “Honeymooners” episodes to the fact that Ann Coulter is dating Jimmy Walker, the mystery of Alfalfa’s cowlick, Lee Meriwether, Spanky’s amazing performances as an infant, and of course the incredibly nubile “Darla”. ..This is why the rest of the world hates us.
Finally our entrée arrived, As I remember, it was a combo of a combo, kabli palow, and the fish combo. What we didn’t expect was that it came in a wheelbarrow. A mountain of tender lamb shanks and fish buried in basmati rice, raisins ,and carrots was placed before us.
Our “family” did what it could so as not to offend our hosts. The large portion did cost us $75, one entrée multiplied by five plus the appetizers. We went over budget by five dollars each. Not too bad, but no way to treat a family.