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Pen to plate

The Springs' first Afghan eatery invokes poetry in both namesake and flavor



If you've ever read the works of 13th-century Sufi mystic and poet Rumi, you know that via metaphorically rich, fable-like tales, he imparts simple wisdoms that echo back to a common theme of uniting with the divine.

Not surprisingly, one of the images the poet used most to illustrate bliss was drunkenness. Provided that, I find it wholly appropriate that downtown proprietor Shams Forough — who hails from southwestern Afghanistan — decided to name his new, traditional Afghan eatery Rumi's Kabab.

Fortunately for us and the great poet's legacy, Forough's effort stands as a destination worthy of overindulgence, a place where intoxicating spices and infusions like rosewater, cinnamon and mint creep into dishes, endowing them with a spirit that deserves reflection.

Initially put off by what I thought would be another falafel spot in a saturated market, I was heartened when Forough told us in August that what he was moving into the former Persian Grill site would be "totally different." It is. My best analogy is that his Afghan cuisine is like a fusion of the essences of Indian and Middle Eastern food, minus the curry and hummus. Think yogurt sauces, lentils, lamb and beef kababs, floral teas, sweet rice pudding and baklava. Praise Allah and Ganesha.

To truly feast, first visit the lunchtime buffet ($8.99) and overburden your paper plate (a real one would be nice) with sabzi (sautéed spinach); daal (lentils, hopefully not always as al dente as our batch); kadu (slightly sweetened, baked pumpkins topped in a garlic yogurt); banjan (fried eggplant with tomatoes); seasoned rice; and the daily pick of kabab meat hunks. If it's barley soup day, conserve stomach space for a big serving; it's excellent.

Forough delivers a basket of warm focaccia-like bread after you plate up, with two chatni (as in chutney) dips differing only in that one adds tomatoes to the fine-diced green and red bell peppers, mild chiles, salt and vinegar. Order good-quality sweet mango and pomegranate juices ($3), and finish your meal with a delightful cardamom- and ginger-spiked, milky rice pudding.

Return at night to Rumi's, take a seat among the Afghan rugs and whirling dervish photos, and start with the items that wouldn't hold up at the buffet. The superb aushak (raviolis stuffed with leeks and scallions, $4.95) gets a complex flavor garnish of ground beef bits, mint and garlic over a yogurt sauce. Though the boolani e gandana (samosa-like, leek-stuffed pastries, also $4.95) suffer from overly oily bottoms, they bring nice flavor.

For entrées, pick larger portions of many of the dishes (including the aushak), one of several kababs (lamb, beef or chicken), or a vegetarian option like the Special ($12.95) that adds bendi (sautéed okra and tomatoes) to the aforementioned pumpkin, eggplant, spinach and rice. I opted for the Seekh Kabab ($12.95), a satisfying garlic-, onion purée- and sun-dried baby grape-marinated, grilled leg of lamb sliced into tender cubes next to rice, sautéed eggplant and grilled bell peppers and onions.

Seven alluring dessert options pose a challenge for the indecisive. I finally chose the ferni, a delicious, panna cotta-like almond sliver-filled pudding topped in pistachio crumbles, and the outstanding jalabi (both $3.95), a thin, fried puffed pastry exuding a sticky syrup, rosewater and cardamom charm.

I won't venture so far as to suggest you'll marry with the divine at Rumi's, but you're at least assured a happy union with a unique, lovely cuisine.

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