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Restaurant Spotlight: Panjshir




Scurrying in off the sidewalk into the warm interior of Panjshir, the sounds and smells of ethnic cooking immediately stimulate the senses.panjshir1.jpg

Panjshir serves not only as a great refuge from the chill of autumn in Falls Church, but also as a delightfully delicious restaurant when you’re ready for a uniquely flavorful experience, different from the usual day-to-day eatery.

Panjshir welcomes patrons to a world of authenticity. Although the quarters are somewhat tight, the narrow space of the restaurant is visually widened by the mirrors lining either side of the rich burgundy walls. With two intricately-decorated ceremonial Afghan firearms crossing the entrance way, there is an overwhelming feel of antique tradition at Panjshir. The closely-fitted booths, knitted blue-and-brown window treatments and casual tables create an atmosphere of intimacy, putting diners at ease while comforting Afghan music proves soothing.

A small bar appears in the back of the restaurant. Its petite size and comfort lends a family-owned feel to the space. From the ornate golden statues on top of the bar, to the rustic flatware and dishes, an air of tradition and culture truly infuses the dining experience.

Thinking now only with my stomach, my eyes focused in on the list of traditional appetizers. I decisively chose to start with the Bulanee Kachalu ($4.95). These thin, flakey turnovers, stuffed with potato and ground beef with crusts that crunched when bitten, defined crispness; and were served with a side of hot sauce in a lovely antique metal bowl. However, upon testing the hot sauce, I found chunky jalapeño, cilantro and garlic, mingled among other fresh spices, struck a bit roughly on my delicate palate. So while my more adventurous guest smothered his turnover in the zippy sauce, I happily enjoyed the turnover sans dressing.

After several minutes of inspecting the dishes on the exotic menu, which included many vegetarian options that equally competed with my normally over-zealous carnivorous appetite, I decided to experiment. The Mushroom Palow ($13.95) was my omnivore compromise, which would be tried with care, just in case the Afghan spices decided to throw my taste buds a spicy curveball.

The Mushroom Palow included sautéed chunks of chicken in sour cream with fresh mushrooms, all of which were seasoned with Afghan spices and served with saffron rice. The chicken was surrounded by a creamy, yellow sauce that hinted mildly of mustard seed and was infused with the earthy flavors of mushroom. In the sauce, I tasted the flavors of poultry mingling vibrantly with the other spices. Although the flavors were not easily separated and identified, the dish was all the better for the mystery. The saffron rice tasted somewhat of grain and hinted of spicy sweetness, and was the perfect compliment to the mild and savory chicken.

The Kebab-E-Gos Fund ($14.95) ordered by my guest was just as good, if not better, than my own meal. The chucks of lamb marinated in herbs and spices that arrived proved to be a much simpler dish than my own. It was served on a skewer with the same sweet saffron rice. The lamb was extremely juicy and perfectly salted. Unique spices added intoxicating warmth, melting in my mouth, making me wish I wasn’t so full already from my entree.

This will not be my last trip into the culinary offerings of Afghanistan. The spice laden heat of the savory food still danced on my tongue. It left me wanting to spend all night slowly trying out various offerings on the menu, chatting in the restaurant, instead of leaving to battle the chilly wind. If you’re looking for a retreat from the mundane, or just from the brisk weather, and are craving something full of spices and intrigue, Panjshir warmly awaits your arrival.

Panjshir

Open Mon. – Sat.

Lunch 11:30 a.m. – 2 p.m.

Dinner 5 p.m. – 10 p.m.

924 W. Broad St.

Falls Church

703-536-4566