Back to Their Roots: Lapis Restaurant

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Mustafa, Zubair, Shamim, Fatima, and Omar Popal. | Photo by Ben Droz.

For the last dozen years, the Popal name has been synonymous with French-style cuisine in D.C. With Malmasion and Café Bonaparte, both in Georgetown, and a flood of other French bistros, it was time for something different.

In April of this year, Zubair and Shamim Popal, and their three children, Omar, Mustafa and Fatima, decided to “return home,” converting Napoleon Bistro and Lounge, located in Adams Morgan, into Lapis. Billed as “A Modern Afghan Bistro,” Lapis, named after Afghanistan’s deep-blue national gemstone, features homemade Afghan recipes prepared by the Popal family’s most prized culinary asset: mom (Shamim Popal, that is).

Popal personally created the menu with family recipes, including tapas-style small plates of traditional Afghani food and some not-so-traditional dishes, such as shrimp ashak (dumplings), a favorite of Omar.

Upon walking into Lapis, one gets a feeling of home and comfort. With the hand-carved doors and the tongue-in-cheek descriptions in the menu, it’s very clear that Lapis is a restaurant designed to show off the family’s style
of enjoyment around the dinner table.

Famous for its kabobs and meat dishes, Afghan cuisine pulls many of its influences from Persian, Indian, Chinese and Mediterranean cultures (hence the dumplings and chutneys). With all the traditional options available, what was most surprising was the number of vegetarian and vegan options. Who knew Afghanis ate so many vegetables? Lapis offers many delectable stewed-vegetable dishes that can easily be converted to vegan without losing their essence and flavor.

Though the idea of tapas-style dining puts some people off (for being overpriced and not very filling), the portions at Lapis are large and shareable, allowing for the true experience of Afghan cuisine.

The only difficulty one might have is deciding between the baked eggplant with sautéed tomatoes, topped with garlic, yogurt and dry mint, or the ground-beef meatballs, mixed with carrots, herbed tomato sauce, cilantro, shallots, garlic, ginger and coriander. Personal recommendation: just get both.

To top it off, Lapis offers inventive cocktails and a brunch menu that blends modern and traditional Afghani styles.

Lapis is located at 1847 Columbia Rd. NW.

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