I often wondered why Baltimore had only one Afghan restaurant, when that one was so popular. What I didn't expect was that when a second one, the Silk Road, did open up, it would do so five blocks south of its rival on the same street.
In any case, there the Silk Road is. Comparisons are unavoidable, but that really isn't fair to the new place. Even though it doesn't have the sophistication of the Helmand, it has its own virtues. Foremost among them: good and inexpensive ethnic food.
Right off the bat, the Silk Road offers one thing the Helmand doesn't. It's open for lunch.
When it was only a week or so old, I had lunch at the new place and was decidedly underwhelmed. That's why I'd put off going back for dinner to review until now.
Happily, my second visit was much more successful than my first.
It was a bitterly cold night, and at first the spare main dining area with its few ethnic appointments didn't seem very inviting. But we rapidly settled in, because this was exactly the kind of food we needed: hearty, soul-warming and flavorful.
We started with the aush soup. Dark, thick and sumptuous, its bold flavors blended so perfectly it was difficult to pick out any one ingredient except for the noodles. It was blazing hot and intriguingly spicy, with a cooling swirl of yogurt on top.
Bulanee kadu was just as good as a starter. The thin, crisp pastry triangles were sandwiched with a delicate pumpkin puree with yogurt on the side.
Also fine were the aushak, tender "ravioli" stuffed with a spiced green-onion filling and napped with a tomato and meat sauce. They come as a first or main course.
The best of our main courses was a chicken dish, lawangi-murgh, made with tender chunks of chicken. I loved its mild, creamy yogurt sauce studded with chickpeas.
For something a bit more exotic, try norange palaw. A mound of saffron rice hid sauteed eggplant and tomatoes. The dish was almost sweet, decorated with pistachios and orange strips and fragrant with rose water and cardamom.
When I had had lunch at the Silk Road, I had pretty much felt I could take it or leave it. But this evening the only take-it-or-leave-it fare was a comparatively expensive kabab-e-qhaburgha, which couldn't hold a candle to the rest of our meal.
The chunks of lamb, served with a few grilled vegetables, were highly marinated, a bit tough and overcooked.
I hate to end on a negative note, because so much of our meal was a hit. We should have quit while we were ahead and not ordered dessert, which consisted of fried dough sprinkled with powdered sugar, a milky pudding flavored with rose water, and baklava that wasn't as fresh as it should have been.
Where: 336 N. Charles St.
Hours: Open Monday through Saturday for lunch and dinner, Sunday for dinner only
TTC Prices: Appetizers: $2.75-$9.75; entrees: $9.75-$14.95. AE, MC, V
Call: (410) 385-9013
Pub Date: 2/02/97