It's funny, how I'll go to a restaurant once and blog about it, but then I won't write about a restaurant that I've been to several times even when I really love the food. Such is the case with Azeen's Afghani Restaurant in Old Town Pasadena. Azeen's is the type of restaurant that really needs some spotlighting, simply because it's hidden away on a one way street that's not anywhere near the busy pedestrian traffic on the parallel street of Colorado Boulevard. I only found out about it because I went to a dinner there with friends a couple of years ago. Ever since then, I've been back a few times and I have to say that for the most part, I've never been disappointed with my meal. So let's get into the food,
When it comes to appetizers, I've had most of them and they're quite tasty. For the particular meal that this post is going to reference, my friends and I shared two of them. One was the Pakawara-e-badenjan, which were batter dipped sauteed slices off eggplant. It's at Azeen's that I've ever had eggplant deep fried and being an eggplant lover, that was already a bonus. I enjoyed the crispiness of the batter, but at first, I wasn't quite sure of the yogurt and meat sauce that topped the eggplant. It seemed an odd combination but the tangy yogurt sauce actually married well with the more highly spiced tomato-based meat sauce.
The other appetizer was the Buranee-kadu. This dish is sauteed butternut squash, also topped with yogurt and meat sauce. The melding of flavors was really interesting for this dish. You get sweet, meaty, tangy all in one bite. While we didn't have them this time, be sure to also check out their steamed dumplings, if you decide to make a visit to Azeen's.
One is the Mantu, a chopped beef, onion and herb dumpling and the Aushak, whose filling include leeks and scallions. Both dumplings have slightly differing sauces. The sauce for the Mantu is also yogurt based and the dumplings are topped with mixed veggies while the Aushak has a yogurt and meat sauce, with the addition of mint. What's great about all the yogurt sauces is that they're all housemade, so you know they're absolutely fresh.
When it came to the entrees, we ordered the following:
* Badenjan Challaw - Chunks of lamb cooked with eggplant, onions and tomatoes.
* Gulpi - Cauliflower stew cooked with ginger, onions and tomatoes
* Kabob-e-murgh - Tender chunks of chicken breast
As I said earlier, I've pretty much enjoyed all my meals, except for the occasional dish that didn't do it for me. In this case, I didn't care much for the lamb dish. Compared to other things I've tried in the past, the Badenjan Challaw wasn't as flavorful as I would have liked, plus the lamb was a little too chewy when it should have been more tender. I loved the Gulpi. Cauliflower on its own is so bland, but when stewed with the ginger, onions and tomatoes, it definitely took a flavor life of its own that was very appealing. When it comes to kabobs, the real test for me is chicken. If a restaurant can prepare chicken breast kabob without it being dry, than that restaurant deserves praise. So praises to Azeen's because their chicken breast kabob always comes out moist and tender.
When it comes to the other menu items, you really can't go wrong with any of the side or entree vegetarian dishes. Azeen's really knows how to cook their vegetables. They always have a lot of great flavor to them. The other meat kebobs, beef and lamb, are hit and miss. Sometimes, they're tender and juicy and sometimes, not as much. As for the other entrees, I've always enjoyed the Korma Challaw, a dish with chunks of beef cooked with green pepper, onions and tomatoes. The sauce is so good that I'd spoon it over my rice and eat it, even after the meat was all gone. As for desserts, they serve three different kinds. I always find the baklava and the gelabee, which is fried pastry dough too sweet. When I'm in the mood for something sweet, I stick with their rice pudding, which is served chilled with pistachios and almonds.
Let me end by saying that I eat out a lot and I'm always looking for new restaurants and new cuisines to try. It's rare that I'll return to the same restaurant twice in one year, even when I think the food is excellent. For me, to have gone back 3 to 4 times to Azeen's, definitely shows you more than anything else, how much I truly enjoy dining there. You should check it out yourself one time!
To see pics, go to:
Azeen's Afghani Cuisine
110 E. Union St.
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