All Are Welcome
I have been thinking about community a lot lately. Mostly in regards to my work community and the group of professionals that I have started to connect with, but in broader terms as well. Our larger family met recently to celebrate a birthday of one of the clan and I noticed that these days we need some kind of an event to all gather together. (I also thought this event was over too quickly and we needed a bigger space, but that isn’t really my point.) It’s not stated out loud very often, but this group is our first line of defense against the problems in the world. And they are the first people we share good things with in our lives. My daughter will be going off to school soon and I think it is fair to say that she has been shaped by her school community as much as her life at home. And trust me her school believes in a strong community. I found myself once again a part of this close-knit group a couple of weeks ago as they kicked off their annual school fundraiser. Last year this kick off dinner was held at my favorite restaurant, Hell’s Kitchen. This year the event was held at what may become one of my new favorite places, Khyber Pass Cafe.
We arrived a little early to the restaurant which is a small building near the corner of Grand and Snelling. The atmosphere is definitely middle eastern, but it was a back drop more than a showcase of Afghan art and design. There were several tables spread across the split room and the group for the school was in the back half. The four of us grabbed a table for six and waited to see who would be trapped with the two guys taking pictures of our food. We ended up sitting with another great couple and the conversation was lively from the beginning. After adding two bottles of wine to the mix it got even better. the wine selection was discussed with the owner of the restaurant,Emel Sherzad, who made us all feel at home.
There was of course some great food. A plate of fresh hummus and pita was brought out to every table and we all devoured it. This started a conversation during which Kira and I found out we were the minority at our table being the only ones who have not made our own hummus. There were several selections for the main course, but I chose a dish with spiced meat balls that was flavorful without being spicy and my only complaint was I ate it too quickly. I should have savored it. The basmati rice it was served on had great flavor and texture as well. I enjoy rice that is perfectly cooked and when I am the chef this is only about one time in three. Dessert was a cardamom and rose scented eggless milk custard, which sounds weird, but tastes divine. The custard is one of the most unique flavors I can ever recall tasting. I’m not going to try to describe it, you’ll just have to go and order it yourself.
While the food was quite flavorful, what made the evening for me was after diner when Emel told us his story of emigrating to the United States and passed on some of his love for the culture of Afghanistan. He was very open with our group and invited us to ask any questions about his travels and about Afghanistan. He has not been back for some time, but the culture is still a part of who he is and is reflected in the business that he runs. He explained that the meals we had that night were typical Afghan family dishes. Typical dishes, but different family’s cook the meals with their own style and spices. The recipes are only shared within the large family groups and he remembers his parents comparing dishes that people outside the family cooked as “foreign.” Emel is the parent of an alum from Melanie’s school so he is already part of that great community, but that night in his family’s restaurant he made us a part of his community. It is not an evening I will soon forget and I hope to visit again soon.