Ariana serves up Afghan cuisine in Brighton

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BOSTON – Bright yellow walls frame white linen tablecloths and dark blue glassware at Ariana Restaurant in Brighton. Neatly placed pictures of scenes in Afghanistan along with traditional costumes provide a sense of a far-away world in an otherwise mundane shopping center. It also hints at what you’ll find on the menu.

“The food is 100 percent authentic,” said Baheja Rostami, the co-owner with her husband, Najeeb, of the family run business. “It’s what you would eat when you come to stay at our home. It is very traditional Afghani food.”

Influenced by Persian, Indian, Chinese and Mediterranean culture, the menu features lamb, beef and chicken with sautéed vegetables such as spinach, lentils, split peas and carrots, all with garnishes and spices selected by Baheja. Although the basic recipes come from all over, the way the chefs at Ariana cook creates something different, Baheja said.

“We concentrate on the taste and just add a twist,” she said, adding that the restaurant uses recipes drawn both from her memory of dishes made at home in Afghanistan along with her own additions.

Menu favorites include a variety of vegetarian and gluten-free options. One entrée, Korma Challow, comes with green beans, carrots, cauliflower, turnip and potatoes in a sautee with onions, tomatoes and garlic, served with sautéed spinach and challow rice. Another, Aushak, offers raviolis filled with leeks and scallions.

A vegetarian meal at Ariana's Restaurant (New Boston Post photo by Beth Treffeisen)

A vegetarian meal at Ariana’s Restaurant (New Boston Post photo by Beth Treffeisen)

Meat dishes include Chopan, a rack of marinated lamb, grilled and served on bread with sautéed eggplant and pallow rice. There’s also a version of Aushak topped with ground beef. Seekh Kabob features char-broiled lamb marinated in an onion-grape puree and served with eggplant and rice.

A favorite appetizer is Banjan, pan-fried spiced eggplant baked with fresh tomato and served with garlic and mint yogurt. Another is Kaddo, pan-friend baby pumpkin which is baked with sugar and other seasonings then topped with a ground beef sauce and served in garlic yogurt.

“If you like Middle Eastern food that’s authentic, it’s not off the wall,” said Nancy Van Zant a diner from Brookline. “It’s very tasty and fulfilling.”

Ariana competes primarily with just one other Hub restaurant offering Afghan cuisine, Helmand in East Cambridge. Van Zant has sampled both.

“There’s something about the staff and ambience about Ariana that we prefer,” she said. “We take guests there when we know they like Middle Eastern food.”

A view of the large dining room at Ariana's Restaurant (New Boston Post photo by Beth Treffeisen)

A view of the large dining room at Ariana’s Restaurant (New Boston Post photo by Beth Treffeisen)

Baheja and her husband long planned to open a restaurant in America. Baheja came to the U.S. from Afghanistan as a young child. Najeeb, who is also an Afghani, came to these shores by way of the U.K. and Turkey.

“The minute we met, the goal was that he wanted to be his own boss,” Baheja said, meaning that Najeeb wanted to open his own restaurant.

They began Ariana at an Allston location in June 2010, moving to the current spot at 384 Western Avenue in Brighton a little over a year ago. The move almost doubled the restaurant’s size. It also gives patrons more parking options, Baheja said.

“It is still a work in progress and we are still learning and keeping it growing in this location,” she said. They’re also looking to keep the business in the family, bringing their three children to the restaurant to eat and reaching out to share it with the community.

“For us, food is a form of bringing hospitality,” Baheja said. “We never let anyone go without eating.”

A look from the outside of Ariana's Restaurant (New Boston Post photo by Beth Treffeisen)

A look from the outside of Ariana’s Restaurant (New Boston Post photo by Beth Treffeisen)

Customers like Cecil Adderley, who works in Boston, appreciate the quality of the cooking along with the bright atmosphere. Adderley said his first visit featured a tasty lamb dish that was cooked “just right, nice, tender, and not overdone.”

For Allison Hamilos a graduate student who works in the Longwood area, going to Ariana is a treat.

“The flavors are very well balanced,” Hamilos said. “They are not just trying to hide things with the spices.”

The added parking options provide a great improvement over the previous location, Hamilos said.

Still, the exotic flavors of South Asia aren’t for everyone, to the disappointment of Hamilos. She said some of her friends who haven’t tried it before have been reluctant to dine on Afghan cuisine.

But that doesn’t keep her away.

“If I could go every week, I would.”