Lapis is an upscale Afghan restaurant located at 1847 Columbia Rd NW. While most Afghan restaurants have rather predictable names that inevitably include “Kabob,” “Afghan,” “Grill,” and/or “Kabul,” Lapis’s name is the first clue that this is not your average Afghan place. Don’t get me wrong, I love Afghan food. In fact, Afghan food is probably my favorite cuisine. But Lapis takes things to another level by providing a more extensive menu than most Afghan restaurants with chic, tasteful decor, and some of DC’s best cocktails.
Let’s start with the cocktails: Afghanistan is sadly a dry country, but it doesn’t lack delicious ingredients that provide inspiration for interesting and exotic cocktails. I have now tried a number of their cocktails. The “Afghan 75” is tasty, but I would mainly recommend it as a brunch drink. It is a light, bubbly cocktail, made with cognac, cardamom syrup, and champagne. The “Five Lions” (gin, cardamom syrup, egg white, fresh lime) and the “Khyber Pass” (bourbon, creme de violette, and blood orange) are both absolutely fantastic. I also tried a sip of my friend’s “Gulistan,” which is made of rye, house-made rose grenadine and pressed lime, and it was also excellent. I would not recommend the “Karakoram” (gin, orange blossom orgeat, lemon, and soda) so much because the ice and soda dilute it such that it doesn’t have all that much flavor and is a rather weak cocktail (unless that’s what you like).
In terms of the food, I haven’t yet tried something there that I didn’t like. I went with a large group of friends and we ordered a bunch of different dishes. Among the appetizers , I have had the Sambosa Trio (phenomenal) and the Bolani with pumpkin and beef. Bolani is essentially a stuffed flatbread and both the pumpkin and beef fillings were excellent. I have had both types of Afghan dumplings, Aushak “and Mantoo (with beef) and both were tasty as well, if perhaps less memorable. That might be simply because I have had both of these dishes many times before.
We also ordered the mixed grill (chicken, lamb and ground beef kabobs) which was spot on and the “Qabuli Palao,” which is an Afghan pilaf topped with carrots, raisins and lamb was tasty as well, if a bit of a small portion.
All Afghan places have at least a handful of vegetarian options, but Lapis provides an exceptional array of choices, including a vegetarian tasting menu, a wide range of veggie dishes and a number of other dishes that can be made vegetarian. We sampled the sabzi (a spinach dish a bit like Indian saag), the dal and the buranee kadoo, which is sauteed pumpkin topped with garlic yogurt and dry mint. They were all great, but the buranee kadoo was especially excellent.
Lapis also does a nice brunch, and while a large portion of the brunch menu consists of American brunch food, I ordered the tasty Karayee which consists of eggs over sauteed tomatoes, potatoes, onions and hot peppers, which I enjoyed.
Fortunately, Afghan cusisine does not lack dessert options. In this regard, Lapis offers the holy trinity of Afghan desserts, Sheer Yakh (vanilla ice cream with rose water and a pistachio garnish), “firnee” which is a custard, and “sheer berenj,” which is a rice pudding. I found the “sheer yakh” to actually be a little less flavorful than versions at other Afghan places, which often add cardamom and saffron to the mix. I haven’t tried the “sheer berenj” or
the “firnee” yet, but I will in the future. Despite the less than perfect ice cream, Lapis is an excellent place that can appeal to people of all tastes, carnivores and vegetarians, and lovers of sophisticated cocktails.