Ken Leighton 5 p.m., Jan. 24
Chopahn: It Means “Shepherd,” Not "Composer"
This must be Afghan Month. First I found Zia Pizza, then Ian turned up at Khyber Pass, then I find myself outside Chopahn (650 6th Avenue, in the Gaslamp, 619-236-9236). I’m standing gawking at the menu pedestal outside, when the owner, looks like, comes up. For me, the entrée prices are a little gobsmacking. Kabob plates go from $17 to $35. So we’re talking quality. But not in my league. Not at these dinner prices, anyway.
Then my eye flits to the appetizers, and soups and salads. Here we’re talking $7-$9. That I could handle, if it’s cool to just have that.
“Would you like to come in?” says the owner. Mr. Hussainy.
“Would it be cool to just have, like, an appetizer?” I ask.
“Absolutely.” He says it like he means it, so I follow him in.
Inside’s muy elegante...
...elaborate chandelier, cream arches reaching two stories high. Carved wooden chairs you’d expect to see in the US Grant. White linen tablecloths, translucent marble sconce lights, heavy flatware, fresh roses at each table, the whole nine yards.
The only thing I have to ask: The music playing sounds like Afghani music at a guess, nothing like Chopin.
“No, no,” says Mr. Hussainy. “Chopahn means ‘shepherd’ in our language. Nothing to do with your composer."
I think about the soups – chicken vegetable variations, and the salads. But the most Afghan looking dishes are in the apps. Aushuk, steamed dumplings with leeks, yogurt, meat sauce. Or Mantu, steamed dumplings with chopped beef, yogurt, sautéed veggies (both $6.95). Or two bulanee dishes: turnovers stuffed with leeks or ground beef ($5.25). Or sambosas, the triangular pastries filled with ground beef and chickpeas ($7.95).
But what I end up going for is the eggplant. Love eggplant. So do Afghanis, big-time, turns out. Pakawra-e-badenjan ($6.95) is batter-dipped sautéed eggplant topped with yogurt and meat sauce.
Have to say, service is like I’m a millionaire. Rodrigo, the black-tied waiter serves the badenjan with the full-on elegant treatment...
...and the waitresses, Rachel and Jayna, constantly check that all’s okay, and my water’s topped up.
The badenjan is beautifully squelchy inside the crispy batter, with that same, slightly salty yogurt on one half, and a pot of green sauce to ladle on. Rachel says it’s a cilantro chutney mix with Serrano peppers, walnut, citrus, garlic and some fresh herbs. It zings the taste up good.
In fact the three are quite filling. Folks around have piles of rice and stews and chicken, but I don’t feel robbed. In fact I’ll be back to try those sambosas next time. I get outa here paying $7.49 and feeling like a king.