Our cousin Pam is an anthropologist who spent most of her adult life among Afghani people and always got our appetites excited by her descriptions of their food. When we lived in Chicago, she introduced us to the real thing there at a now-closed restaurant, also called Helmand, where our table was often visited by the owner, Ahmed Wali Karzai, a half-brother of Hamid Karzai, current President of Afghanistan, who was rumored to be a partner in the enterprise. Because we loved the food at that Helmand, we were pleased to find another Afghan restaurant of the same name in the Boston area when we were there for a January get-away. On a frigid evening (5 above zero) our party of four slogged several bone-chilling blocks from the "T"-stop and were relieved to enter into the Helmand's toasty dining room, already half-filled and lively at an early hour. It is not an elegant room, but, warmed by a big fireplace and an authenticly-domed Afghan bread oven and decorated with colorful Afghan crafts and artifacts, it felt both cosy and inviting to us. The service we got was correct and dignified (not over-attentive and over-friendly as is so common today). It might have been a little slow at times, but this was compatible with our being relaxed, comfortable, and in no big hurry. Though the menu seemed a bit exotic to the couple with us, who had never had Afghan food before, the menu's careful descriptions of each dish soon had them as eager to order as we were. (Anyone worried about whether they would like this cuisine can look in advance at the detailed menu descriptions and mouth-watering photos of certain dishes at the restaurant's Website, http://www.helmandrestaurant.com/.) The food is wonderfully flavorful but not overly spicy, and there is a wide vegetarian choice. We were happy with all our choices, especially the Chowpan (marinated lamb chops which were some of the best any of us have ever had. I am not sure of the extent of its bar, but Helmand has a good quality and reasonable wine list.
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