By Anna Wilding on November 22, 2015
WASHINGTON, DC (Herald de Paris) — ¬†Entering the warm comfortable sophisticated environs of the much talked about new Afghan bistro, Lapis, is like coming home. ¬†The senses are exotic, and remind you of a home you have had – or are yet to discover. ¬†The interior design is clean and modern, yet conservative and thoughtful, with throwbacks to a time in a recent memory that is but near forgotten. ¬†And how true that statement is for this family, or any family or individual with a legacy with another time and place, of immigrants who have inspired not only their own community but the Adams Morgan District of Washington, DC with probably one of the most refined Afghan restaurants in the United States. ¬†Its an exciting thought, an upscale Afghan restaurant with a twist and nod to the best of fine French cuisine. ¬†A dining pleasure that is a far cry from kebab street food. ¬†Not to undermine that staple ‚Äúkebab‚ÄĚ that we have all grown fond of, and indeed forms a starting point in some dishes at Lapis but to make the distinction with elegant ease.
The Popal family arrived¬†in the US in this recent generation, only thirty years ago, like many emigres fleeing war. Lapis is their homage to Afghan cuisine and culture. In Afghanistan, a guest is considered a blessing from God, which will probably explain why, while waiting for owner Omar Popal, we felt so blessed sitting enjoying fresh cocktails made by our expert veteran New York bartender, Brian Key.
I had the Lapis Lemonade, made with fresh lemon, and orgeat that was hand brewed by Brian. ¬†It didn’t last long, it was excellent and Brian explained he makes all the sodas in the establishment-indeed the entire cocktail menu is his and many ingredients crafted by hand. ¬†The cocktail menu is exotic,smooth and if you wish to revel in luxurious atmosphere with decadent ease, this is the place and Brain is your man.
Omar Papal emerged. ¬†Svelte, tall, and handsome, Omar cuts a mighty fine dash as restaurateur, a position he shares with other members of his family. ¬†Omar is quick to share family portraits that hang on one wall. ¬†After owning French restaurants for just over a decade in DC and after many years of family friends extolling his Mother, Shamim’s, cooking, Omar’s mother finally relented, got over her fear of cooking publicly and professionally, and allowed her family to proceed with setting up Lapis, that would feature her as Chef, and would be a personal and professional jewel in the crown of the family enterprises.
Shamim Popal, through circumstances learned to cook when fleeing Afghanistan, in a series of five star hotels throughout Europe and the Middle East that her husband was marketing and sales manager for. ¬†It was fine training and probably better than money could buy. ¬†Mrs. Popal was adept at fine cuisines and was soon making a mark on traditional dishes that captivated her early earnest diners. ¬†Mrs. Popal brings that breadth of exotic experience to Lapis.
The Lapis restaurant is heavy on meat but has an extremely extensive vegetarian menu, so for the latter I was well met. I sampled many varying dishes, some which I wanted to steal home and some which, put simply, balanced out the Pinot Noir. ¬†The dish of the night though was by far the ‚ÄúShola‚ÄĚ- a 16 bean afghan risotto that is apparently rarely seen on Afghan restaurant menus. ¬†I am not surprised, the taste was so textured, multi layered and exquisite, I cannot see possibly how many Chef’s would actually be able to make it, let alone well. ¬†I can well imagine one of those French films, where the whole film centers on the making of this one dish, be it Indian, French, Mexican, and all the generations of stories that go with it.
I also had the, “Bamya,‚ÄĚ sublimely cooked Okra is s seasoned onion garlic tomato sauce, with zardak-caramlised carrots – and who doesn‚Äôt like those? ¬†It was insisted I try the Dal – yellow lentil in a garlic, onion and cumin sauce. It was certainly adequate, lighter and more flavorful than some of its Indian counterparts, but at the end of the day, dal. ¬†So why the dal didn‚Äôt dance on the taste buds in a spectacular way, it was certainly a nice counterpoint base for the more stunning dishes such as the shola.
As our chief food critic does not eat meat, I like to¬†tag along to make sure that we cover the full breadth of any menu. ¬†At Lapis, I was not disappointed. ¬†I started with an exquisite Manhattan Lapis, made with Cutty Sark Prohibition, Pikesville Rye, with cardamom and orange infused sweet vermouth. ¬†The underlying flavor of orange blossom made this cocktail unique, and especially memorable. ¬†I then ventured into Lapis’ signature Mantoo Shrimp. ¬†Shrimp are not a staple of the Afghan diet, but topped with a saffron cream sauce, the dumplings offered a lighter twist on a traditional Afghan favorite. ¬†I completed my meal with a more traditional Afghan stew, Kofta, spiced meatballs served with carrots and potatoes, in a light, herbed tomato sauce.
We confidently and highly recommend Lapis for any kind of dinner be it romantic, group dinner, family, wedding, absolutely everything.
It is, put simply, quietly fabulous.
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