This past weekend, I passed over the Wallingford Wurst Festival, which is usually one of the best festivals in the city--complete with dunk tanks featuring shivering sixth-graders, Michelob Dark on tap or glasses of blush in the beer garden, and the kinds of carnival rides that go so well with bratwurst spices.

Like most everybody else in the country right now, I just can't get myself into Friday night. While my limbs can jerk around a school gymnasium under strings of lights, my heart isn't dancing. A pale intestine stuffed thick with pork just doesn't move me like it did last week.

It's obvious how the arts--writing, painting, poetry, film, and so forth--can poignantly provide expression of any fear, pain, and anger that needs outlet and documentation during crisis; but this Friday afternoon, I didn't really feel like eating and writing about the textures and flavors I have such privileged access to. I switched off the talk radio and put on a record. I peeled off the terrible Hanes Her Way outfit I had been living in and took a shower. After dribbling ludicrously expensive eyedrops onto my inflamed corneas, I was ready to leave the apartment.

It was with some trepidation that I found myself and mine traveling out to Wallingford on this Friday night; not to meet the Wurst Wizard, but to pay a visit to a restaurant I've loved since my first bite of their lamb kebab.

Assuming that Kabul, specializing in Afghan cuisine, would be closed, I was surprised and relieved to find its windows flickering with candlelight, the crowd of Seattleites waiting for tables spilling out onto the sidewalk. Cozied up to Al's Tavern, Kabul is usually just a quiet place on the corner; and while their food and service have always radiated a gentle warmth, tonight the place glows with neighborliness. A huge American flag hangs on the front door, and the buzz of conversation overpowers the sitar. Folks politely wait for up to an hour to be seated as waitstaff dash with efficiency.

All evening, I find myself fascinated with Kabul's service. The reciprocal energy of friends, neighbors, the owner, and the staff transform dining out into an unusually intricate and, dare I say it, loving experience. The owner appears frequently, a spare man who threw a white apron over gray shorts and set to work cooking and prepping, occasionally popping out to ferry glasses of wine to people and bus tables faster than the eye can follow. While servers lavish us with attention, the kitchen produces dishes like the Bara Kebabs ($18)--succulent, coriander-encrusted lamb served with Badenjan Borani, an eggplant dish as beautiful as it is tender, sautéed and simmered in spicy tomato sauce, streaked with garlicky yogurt, and garnished with mint.

Kabul responded to the overwhelming show of solidarity from customers with comforting sustenance: Ash ($3.50), a traditional soup with thick noodles, yogurt, kidney beans, and chick peas, flavored with dill, turmeric, and mint; inspired twists such as Ashak ($12.50), a fresh, ravioli-style pasta stuffed with leeks and cilantro, served with tangy yogurt sauce and spicy beef or tomato; and nourishing stews like Qorma-i Sabzi ($13.50), delicately spiced spinach, cilantro, scallions, and parsley topped with cumin, saffron, and dill-infused lamb. All are served with a cooling side of tomatoes, onions, and cucumber dressed with lemon and mint, and Basmati rice cooked with saffron, pepper, cardamom, coriander, and cumin, topped with shredded carrots and raisins (all are available as vegetarian meals).

As I peruse Kabul's menu, I notice for the first time the brief history of the city of Kabul, recounted on the menu cover. It is essentially a laundry list of every imaginable empire attacking and conquering this crossroads of trade between India and Central Asia over the past three centuries. But at this moment, Kabul, a modest restaurant, has become a place for a community to show support and to grieve, comforted with well-spiced food and the eerie efforts we are all making to exist within a Friday night.

Kabul Afghan Cuisine

2301 N 45th St, 545-9000. Sun-Thurs 5-9:30 pm; Fri-Sat 5-10:30 pm. $.

Price Scale (per entrée)

$ = $10 and under; $$ = $10-20; $$$ = $20 and up.

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