The first time we heard about Afghan restaurant Aryana was in the Montreal Gazette's Best casual restaurants of 2011 article by Sarah Musgrave. Her enthusiastic review intrigued us, so we added it to our ever-growing list of restaurants that we keep to consult when planning one of our weekly date nights. Then a few weeks ago our friend and fellow food blogger Mayssam Samaha visited Aryana and wrote about it on her blog Will Travel For Food. We love Mayssam's blog and hold her opinion in high regard, so following her glowing endorsement of the restaurant, on a night when we were looking for something a little more on the casual side we decided to bump the place up a few spots on our list and pay Aryana a visit.
We have found that often, the best food can be found in the most unlikely of places. Aryana is precisely one of those places. Located in a mundane strip-mall on Boulevard des Sources in Montreal's west island municipality of Dollard des Ormeaux it's the type of place that would easily go overlooked if you were not specifically searching for it. We called before leaving the house at the last minute on a Saturday night to be sure of their business hours and to confirm that it was in fact, a bring your own wine restaurant - something we love and are always looking for. It's a good thing that we did because the gentleman who answered the phone informed us that it was a particularly busy night but was nonetheless able to accommodate a table for two.
Upon entering we were greeted warmly by a young man who as it turned out, was the eldest son of the family that owns and operates Aryana. The place is quaint and cozy, a fresh coat of paint and a few scenic photos of Afghanistan adorn the walls. As we make our way through the dining room to our seats, a table of people we don't even know stop us to say "enjoy the food guys, everything is spectacular" - a seemingly popular opinion. We took our seats and as we looked over the menu the gentleman who greeted us came back to uncork our wine, bring us water and let us know that he'd soon return to answer any questions we had about the menu and take our order.
We began our meal with two appetizers. First, the badunjan burani which is a dish of fried eggplant confidently seasoned with warm tasting spices and a light hint of garlic. It was garnished with a generous amount of dill and a swirl of tangy Afghani yogurt. The eggplant was supple and the warm spices combined with the cooling yogurt was delectable. Our second appetizer was Ashak, an order of six boiled dumplings that were stuffed with herbs and sautéed leeks covered in a few spoon-fulls of a light and flavorful meat sauce also garnished with dill and a swirl of the same Afghani yogurt. We sat drinking our wine and eating our appetizers truly amazed by the assertive flavors we were indulging in. It was rapidly becoming very clear to us what all the buzz is about.
Badunjan Burani (Eggplant) - 6$
Ashak (Boiled Leek Dumplings & Meat Sauce) - 5.50$
We had asked our waiter what he would suggest for our mains. He told us that although the skewered meats are delicious, his enthusiastic recommendation was to choose his mother's specialties: the kabuli palow and murgh palow in addition to which we ordered a plate of a pumpkin dish called kadu chalow that we were familiar with and thoroughly enjoyed on a previous visit to a different Afghan restaurant in Montreal. No one knows mom's cooking better than her sons, and boy was he right. The kabuli palow was a heaping portion of fragrant rice studded with large, meltingly tender chunks of lamb all covered in cooked grated carrot and plump raisins. The sweetness of the carrots and raisins balanced the warm spicy flavors of the lamb and rice magnificently, this is truly a dish not to be missed. The murgh palow was pieces of perfectly cooked and moist boneless chicken breast that had been stewed with onions, tomatoes and herbs that formed a wonderful bright orange sauce, it was served with a side of the same great rice as the lamb dish was.
Kabuli Palow (Lamb) - 10.50$
Murgh Palow (Chicken) - 10.50$
After serving our mains our waiter left to get the pumpkin dish we had ordered. When he returned he noticed us taking photos of our food and asked us if we were critics. Normally, when taking our photos in a restaurant we basically hope that staff who notice either think we are tourists or that they just don't feel comfortable asking us why we're taking pictures of the food. This was the first time we had been outright asked before and we weren't sure what to do. After all, our goal is to remain anonymous at all times so that we are not treated preferentially. We looked at one another and decided that since everything we ordered had already been brought to our table we saw no harm in telling the truth. So, we made it clear that we were NOT critics, just food bloggers. He thanked us for coming, made sure everything was to our liking and politely excused himself. We were very appreciative that he didn't make the situation uncomfortable.
The pumpkin didn't disappoint. In fact, it was fantastic. Bite-sized cubes of simultaneously sweet and savory pumpkin were served in a bowl with a sauce that had a soup like consistency which we can only assume was a derivative of it's cooking juices. The dish was garnished identically to the appetizers with Afghani yogurt and dill. You would think that this garnish duo would be getting redundant by now, but you'd be wrong. One can never get enough of a good thing, following that logic it's impossible to have enough of a great thing. The pumpkin is an absolutely sensational dish that would be a mistake not to try when eating here. It can be ordered as a main dish with rice for $7.50 or as a side dish in a smaller portion without rice for $4.50 which is what we had.
We loved the pumpkin so much we actually asked for a second order of it but our waiter suggested an alternative. He explained that there is an item on the menu called bolani, a crispy Afghani pastry stuffed with potato that is offered in the appetizer section for 2$ a serving. But in their family's home, he said his mother often makes an adaptation of this dish with the pumpkin we loved so much. Before we could even answer he briskly left to the kitchen to request if his mother would make us this pumpkin bolani and in less than two minutes he returned with it. We were so grateful that we got the opportunity to try this off-menu item and given how quickly it appeared, also happy to see that it was not a burden to prepare. Part of us felt like he did this because we had been exposed as bloggers but he assured us that it wasn't so and that he routinely likes to surprise people, "I just love making people happy" he told us. The bolani was awesome, it was thin and crisp around the edges garnished with a drizzle of yogurt. It evoked all the wonder of the kadu chalow with an added textural element.
Kadu Chalow (Pumpkin) - 4.50$
We had only arrived to the restaurant at around 8:30PM, so by the time our meal was winding down it was getting late and the dining room had been slowly emptying out until we looked around and realized we were the only ones left. We got up to excuse ourselves and pay the bill because we felt as though we were preventing the family from cleaning up and leaving for the night but they insisted we remain to share a conversation with them and finish our wine while they had a post-service bite to eat at the table next to us. We sat around talking with the mother, father, two sons and daughter about how they decided to open the restaurant this past summer. They expressed genuine feelings of gratitude for all of the support, good will and positive remarks they've received from their customers. Some of them were somewhat surprised by the rapid surge in popularity but after tasting this food, their success didn't surprise us at all and it certainly didn't surprise the sons, who knew exactly how good their parents cooking was. Our perception is that they are a wonderful and charming family that has fallen in love with their restaurant and are complete naturals at providing top notch hospitality, making every last person in their dining room smile and feel welcome. The food was terrific, the service was impeccable and friendly, and the price represented excellent value; our whole meal only cost about 35$ plus tax and tip. On top of all this it's a bring your own wine restaurant which is a huge plus and the food is fresh and all the meat is halal quality for those who are interested to know. Occasionally it's hard to find the words to express our feelings about a restaurant we've visited when writing our blog posts, other times the food and experience can be so inspirational that it makes writing a breeze, this was one of those times. There is no question that we plan to return often to Aryana, we can't wait to eat the heartwarming food and say hello to their family again. We passionately suggest that you try it for yourselves, you're sure to be impressed.
4886 Boul Des Sources
Dollard Des Ormeaux, QC