Ariana isn't much to look at -- a small restaurant, tucked into a little shopping strip in quarters formerly home to a video game store. But a restaurant doesn't have to look glamorous to succeed, so long as the food is right.
At Ariana, the food is just that, with spices and dishes from Afghanistan, India, Greece and the Middle East. They're homemade and served by owner Fahima Vorgetts, working alongside her family to the tune of ethnic music (Persian and Pakistani on our last visit).
The decor is simple, with rugs and Middle Eastern dresses on the walls, and red diamond-patterned fabric muting what would have been harsh fluorescent lights overhead.
We opened our just-under-$50 feast with hummus (pureed chickpeas with a zippy seasoning of lemon juice, garlic and tahini) served with a six-slice basket of Afghan bread, and the "Combination Delight" of spicy stuffed turnovers and pastries accompanied by a palate-cooling dish of Ariana's homemade yogurt.
Next came the soups -- shorba, a seasoned vegetable soup with fresh herbs, and a considerably spicier mashawa, with chickpeas and whole moong (very lentil-like) offset by a floating touch of yogurt.
Although the salad, included with the entree along with another basket of the fat-free bread, was unremarkable, our two entrees were unforgettable.
We opted for pasanda, spiced lamb chunks marinated in yogurt in a thick onion and almond sauce, and zeresh palau, grilled marinated chicken breast in a Persian blend of rice, saffron, currant and almonds, which was terrific (and a welcome mild respite after all the spicy dishes).
Rice, traditionally prepared and eaten without much thought in the United States, was the star of this dish. The combination of saffron, currants and almonds created a blend of textures and flavors.
For dessert, homemade baklava -- lighter than the Greek style, as it is made without butter -- and sheerbrinj, a rice pudding prepared with low-fat milk, rose water and a sprinkle of cardamom, rounded out a very enjoyable meal, along with cardamom-laced Afghan tea and glasses of ice water that the attentive family staff never allowed to get low.
Throughout, Fahima Vorgetts stopped by the table, checking on our reactions and offering her own.
She also answered our questions about the decor. She professes to know little about art, saying she picked "what I like" for the restaurant that opened about one year ago.
We do that in dining out: We pick what we like. And we'll be back.
Editor's note: Once a month, Dave and Bonnie will explore Anne Arundel County eateries in search of a good meal for two, priced under $50 (before tip and taxes).
Where: 584 Benfield Road, Severna Park. 410-647-6964.
Hours: Lunch, 11: 30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday through Friday. Dinner, 4 p.m. to 9: 30 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 4 p.m. to 10: 30 p.m. Friday, 2 p.m. to 10: 30 p.m. Saturday, 1 p.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday.
Prices: Appetizers and soups from $1.95 to $7.95; entrees $8.25 to $12.95. Credit cards: MasterCard, Visa, American Express.
(Ratings are based on a four-star system with four being excellent, three good, two fair and one poor)
Pub Date: 4/24/97