806 North Charles Street
Baltimre, Maryland 21201-5308
Sometimes being a vegetarian is tough. Being a vegetarian that loves to go out to eat is even tougher. I'm usually relegated to the limited vegetarian friendly fare of spaghetti with plain red sauce. Yum.
I get pretty stoked to find a vegetarian friendly restaurant that offers exotic flavors, nice ambience and also satisfies the appetite of my meat-eating husband.
Enter The Helmand.
The Helmand is located in the uber hip neighborhood of Mt. Vernon. It's located down the street from The Brass Elephant and The Hippo and across the street from Akbar. We had read a good review about this place and wanted to check it out since we're always seeking a good restaurant that we can both enjoy.
My first experience with The Helmand was just with my husband. When we arrived, we were surprised to see that there wasn't really a waiting area… or even any sort of front area. We were right by people eating at their tables. There was a small crowd of people standing waiting to be seated and it was awkward to be practically on someone's lap as they ate. They do have a small bar in the back of the restaurant but it was also packed. Fire hazzard, much? But perhaps this is their tactic to get you to eat more because I found myself drooling over people's meals.
When we were seated (after waiting about 10 minutes), we were sat at a very tiny corner table that we had to squeeze past a few patrons to get to. Once we were seated, everything was fine. The décor of the restaurant lends itself to the exotic fare being offered with tapestries and other interesting wall art.
Finally, the waitress came by to take our order. I had inquired if the bread I was seeing on everyone's tables was something we could expect (like most restaurants) but was promptly told no. Apparently it’s a separate order. Regardless, it's delicious. I generally prefer my bread to be a little crispier but this was great nonetheless. It was flat bread that was thicker than I anticipated. It was very soft, chewy and not too buttery. I highly recommend splurging and ordering the side of bread.
The rest of the waitress's service left much to be desired and I felt like saying, "I'm sorry, are we bothering you by placing our order?" but lucky for them, the food made up for it.
I ordered a glass of Malbec wine to go with my vegetarian entrée (apparently vegetarian entrees are weekend specials). I ordered the Vegetarian Dolma: Baby eggplant filled with spinach and simmered in sun-dried tomato and herb sauce. Served with challow. (Challow is afghan white rice).
While I wasn't blown away by exotic spices, my meal was good. It was filling, delicious and enough to bring me back for a second visit despite the turdy waitress.
My second visit to The Helmand was with a group of friends (6 people total). We found ourselves in the same waiting situation but decided to head over to the bar in the back. There were no seats available so we were left standing in the wait staff's way for awhile.
We were seated about 15 minutes after arriving and I would say the waiter was much better than the waitress I had the first time around. Although I would say it was a little slow… its hard to tell when you're with friends sometimes.
I ordered a glass of Pinot Noir (the only kind they offered by the glass) and tried a different vegetarian entrée. This time I had Dolma Murch: Bell pepper stuffed with seasoned vegetables, beans and wild rice simmered in a sun-dried tomatoes and rhubarb sauce. Served with challow and a side order of sabzy (spinach).
I have to say, I enjoyed this dish much more than my first dish. The spinach was fantastic. It had a little spice to it but was not overwhelming. The rest of the meal was slightly spicy but not much at all. In general, I just thought it was more flavorful than the vegetarian dolma. I didn't finish my meal because I had eaten so much of that damn delicious bread but was able to take half of it home.
When I asked for a take-out box, I was met with a not so friendly face but the waiter obliged. Although he didn't take the sabzy and it was whisked away by the busboy before I could say a word.
Now here is where I think The Helmand's tactic of making you stand uncomfortably close to other patrons pays off. I saw a couple eating some ice cream and had to have some (despite being incredibly full). It was "Afghan Ice Cream" which really meant that it was vanilla ice cream (very vanilla… like vanilla beans vanilla) with cardamom and dates, dried figs and fresh mango at the bottom. I highly recommend this dessert.
A friend of mine ordered some rice pudding with fresh fruit on top but only enjoyed the fruit portion and not the pudding. The pudding was a little bland.
All in all - I highly recommend giving this restaurant a try. Just be prepared to stand around and wait for a bit (reservations are highly encouraged!) while standing uncomfortably close to dining patrons.