Here at Rum & Blackbird, lunch is the most important meal of the day. The best way to do lunch? Make it a smorgasbord. Today we had a takeout adventure, visiting two completely different parts of Asia, from the comfort of the R&B headquarters in Hell’s Kitchen. We sampled Afghani cuisine from Ariana, and Japanese fusion from Ajisai. Our kitchen counter morphed into a colorful buffet, with everything from teriyaki and sushi to hand-pulled Afghani noodles and pumpkin curry. What did we like best? Read on:
Alyssa’s Take: My top picks from our lunch adventure were the Spinach Samusa from Ariana and the Vietnamese Spring Rolls from Ajisai. For the Spinach Samusa I was expecting a crispy, Indian-style samosa, but was pleasantly surprised to receive a spinach dumpling more reminiscent of a mini-empanada. They were simple, and thankfully, not too greasy. The Vietnamese Spring rolls showcase the pan-Asian quality of Ajisai, where there is not only sushi on the menu, put pad thai and Indian pancakes as well. The spring rolls were the perfect summer appetizer. They were lightly fried and chock-full of rice vermicelli and funky black mushrooms. My favorite part of the lunch battle royal? Cross-cultural condiment pairings, like dipping the Afghan bread in the spicy spring roll sauce.
Jamie’s Take: At first glance, the menu at Ariana looks like a million other falafel and kebab joints across the city. But if you dig a little deeper, there are seriously delicious Afghani specialties to be found. I was way into the Aushe Burida from Ariana—hand-sliced noodles, topped with yogurt sauce, garlic, mint, and ground beef curry. It was hidden away on the menu under the more standard-looking kebabs and sandwiches, so I’m glad we spotted it. The noodles were thick and springy, and the spicy ground beef was nicely tempered by the mint and yogurt sauce. It wasn’t the prettiest dish, but it sure was tasty. I also really liked the tender pumpkin curry from Ariana, even if it’s more of a hearty winter dish. With all the falafel and kebab joints in Hell’s Kitchen, I’d like to put in a word for the slightly more unusual offerings at Ariana—you just have to know where to look.
Ariana: 787 9th Ave.; (212) 262-2323
Ajisai: 615 9th Ave.; (212) 757-2688