The Vegetarian Option: Bahar
I've only ever eaten at one other Afghan restaurant, so I wasn't sure exactly what to expect from Bahar, which is tucked into a stretch of Coney Island Avenue lined with Pakistani and Bangladeshi eateries. In fact there are a lot of familiar-sounding options on their menu, particularly under the vegetarian section, but it all sounds like Indian food. They do offer sides of naan, and under beverages you can find a mango lassi, but I was determined to order something less ordinary.
Before my food came out my server brought me a basket of warm flatbread (I should point out that this is not naan), a couple of spicy condiments, and a squirt bottle full of yogurt sauce. It was tempting to fill up on this delicious bread, particularly with the yogurt sauce—which ended up helping out my entree later in the meal.
I moved onto ashak ($5.95), steamed dumplings filled with scallions, topped with an onion and yogurt sauce, and liberally sprinkled with dried mint. The translucent wrappers were whisper-thin and almost melted in my mouth; the scallions inside imparted a bright, onion-y flavor. The mint added nothing to the dish, but otherwise this was great.
Another thing that intrigued me on the menu was the selection of bolani, described as turnovers with different fillings. They offer scallion, potato, or pumpkin, and the mixed plate ($6.50) which includes one of each. The turnovers are large, deep-fried and stuffed triangles cut into thirds for service. The scallion filling was a repeat of the dumplings; the potato was savory and nicely spiced; but the clear winner was the pumpkin. It was the perfect blend of sweet and salty, in addition to the contrast of the creamy mash with the crispy fried crust. They all went extremely well with the yogurt dipping sauce.
Bypassing the usual entrees I was most interested to try the homemade noodle dishes described as "authentic", of which one was vegetarian. Ashi lobya ($9.95) came out looking like a mess, and to be honest it didn't taste great at first. The noodles were over-cooked and under-seasoned, and the sauce didn't have much flavor. However, once I doused the plate with that yogurt sauce from the squeeze bottle the dish was transformed into something wonderful; the yogurt imparted the right amount of acidity and salt to make the dish into something new. Even so I wasn't able to finish this huge plate, which was extremely filling.
I can't speak to its authenticity, but my meal at Bahar helped me get a better understanding of Afghan food. Though there were a few missteps, there was a level sophistication to some of the dishes that was surprising to me. With a wide variety of different flavors and textures I'm surprised that Afghan food doesn't enjoy a higher level of popularity in New York.
984 Coney Island Ave, Brooklyn NY 11230 (map)
About the author: Howard Walfish is a Virginia native who has been living in New York since 2003. He is, in fact, a vegetarian, and is the co-founder of Eat to Blog and the creator of BrooklynVegetarian.