Pansjhir II:


It isn’t often that a restaurant review presents an opportunity to learn about an unfamiliar cuisine and, at the same time, gain valuable insights into an international crisis, especially when the restaurant in question is within minutes of your home.

Rating:

Food: 6 Ambiance: 5
Service: 7 Price/Value: 9

But that was the case when I decided that an Afghan restaurant would be the logical choice for my first restaurant review since Sept. 11. (The notion of writing about food had been low on my list of priorities since then, despite President Bush’s assurance that eating out is a patriotic gesture.)

I considered the many Afghan restaurants scattered around the metropolitan area before settling on Pansjhir II, one of about 35 ethnic restaurants in Falls Church and the only one that offers “authentic Afghan cuisine.”

Opened in l982 by Aziz Niazy, a burly native of Kabul, it’s one of two restaurants that he and his wife Jamila and their five children own and operate in northern Virginia — the other, also called Pansjhir II, is near Tysons Corner in Vienna.

PANSJHIR II
924 W. Broad St.
Falls Church, Va.
(703) 536–4566

Hours: Lunch, 11 a.m.–2 p.m.;
dinner, 5 p.m.–10 p.m.,
Mon.–Sat.; closed Sunday.

Prices: Inexpensive: Luncheon
appetizers, $2.25-$3:75;
entrees, $6.25-7; dinner
appetizers, $2.75-$3.75;
entrees, $9.95-$13.25.

Ratings: Based on a 1-to-10 scale for food, service, ambiance and price/value; up to 5 domes awarded on the basis of reviewer’s judgment.

The former is located on Falls Church’s main thoroughfare, which runs congruent with Route 7 and Leesburg Pike, the road that has linked the Shenandoah Valley with Alexandria since colonial times.

The restaurant takes its name from a village in central Afghanistan that was the birthplace of Ahmed Massoud, commander of the opposition Northern Alliance who was assassinated by the Taliban just before Sept. 11.

Massoud was known as “the lion of Pansjhir,” explained Mastoora Niazy, who oversees the dining room while her father toils in the kitchen (her mother cooks at the Vienna restaurant). She and her two sisters and two brothers call themselves “the five lions of Pansjhir,” she quipped.

The restaurant, which looks out on busy West Broad Street and the office of the weekly Falls Church News-Press, has the cozy feel of a family enterprise. It seats about 40 in booths along each side and tables in the middle. There is a bar in the rear, a concession to Western tastes, and behind it, paper money from many foreign countries and two ancient rifles, souvenirs from Great Britain’s failed effort to conquer Afghanistan in the 19th century.

Pansjhir’s food may seem unsophisticated by Western standards, but I found it delicious and satisfying. Best of all, it is surprisingly easy on your pocketbook.
Afghan cooking, like that of neighboring Pakistan and Iran, relies heavily on chicken, beef and lamb, and on familiar staples like potatoes, rice, onions, tomatoes, mushrooms, spinach, garlic, eggplant, chickpeas, carrots, apples, prunes, walnuts, raisins and yogurt. Most dishes are generously seasoned with herbs and spices like ginger, coriander and saffron.

I sampled an appetizer called muntoo, dumplings stuffed with ground beef and chunks of onions and topped with seasoned yogurt and meat sauce ($3.25). On another occasion, I ordered aush, a hearty Afghan noodle soup with mixed vegetables, crowned with yogurt and ground beef sprinkled with mint ($2.25). Both were excellent choices.

ALBERT EISELE
Pansjhir II owner Aziz Niazy and his wife, Jamila, at work in their kitchen.

My entrees were equally good. The combination kebab, chunks of lamb, chicken and beef marinated in special spices and served on a skewer over saffron rice lathered with a not-too-hot sauce, with chewy Afghan bread on the side ($6.50) was outstanding.

I also tried a dish that Mastoora Niazy said is her favorite and the favorite of many customers, including several members of Congress whose names she couldn’t recall. Called kadu palow, it consists of saut