Only after parking in front of a random person’s house on 9th Street and making a torturous trek through one of the many Bishop Arts construction zones did we realize there were several open spots directly behind the restaurant. But no matter. Nora rose on the street corner like a tranquil desert oasis, the patterned walls of sand-colored brick and white-tiled patio steps already transporting us to Afghanistan, more so than chef Matt Pikar’s former sprawling Lowest Greenville location ever could.
On the balmy night, we sat outside at the intimate bar, the cantilevered windows open to the street, sipping apricot sours and fig sidecars that tasted of fall and spice markets. Inside, we moved on to mantoo, steamed dumplings filled with spiced beef and topped with a rich tomato sauce and colorful melange of cubed carrots and green peas. Sambosa goshti, light and airy pastries stuffed with beef and peas, were bland in comparison. But thin, crispy bulanee, a fried turnover filled with a mash of leeks and potatoes, was delectable when slathered with cilantro chutney.
Kadu—sweet, sautéed pumpkin smothered with the spicy Middle Eastern version of a meaty Bolognese—was the star, while our table argued over which was better, the braised lamb shank or tender lamb chops. Both came served on a golden mound of qabili palau, saffron rice studded with golden raisins, pistachios, ribbons of shaved carrot, and dried red chiles.
A bottle of white Burgundy in, we made short work of dessert, a creamy custard flavored with rosewater and cardamom. The firnee reminded me of rice pudding and a tablemate of Fruity Pebbles, but both of us were happy. We asked for coffee, expecting something thick and Arabic, served by the thimbleful. Our waiter whispered that it was Folgers. We laughed, content to sip the last of our wine, the moon now high in a cloudless sky.