Mano a Mano at Addis Red Sea(marathon length..)
It was a wondrous thing to see, watching these chowhounds transcend cultural boundaries..You'd think they'd been eating with their hands all their lives..I mean in public!!
Actually, it was pretty easy to look like we were pros, because of the injera, or "velcro bread", that seemed to catch every drop, crumb and morsel, and hang onto it til we got it safely past our lips...This was a steamed, yeasted sourdough "pancake", made from teff, the smallest grain in existance..(thank you Rubee, research assistant!!) It was plate, utensil and general flavor acoompaniment... Lest you think things would get too out-of-hand (!), there were plates of bread served in addition to the bread UNDER the mounds of stew, so the structure of things was never compromised. Luckily, there were no utensils, or someone would have gotten stabbed going for the last of the spicey fish, but I digress....
Complexity was the keyword of the evening; every flavor changed between the teeth and the palate..Even our honeyed wine, which I was fairly dubious of, as a Sauvignon Blanc kinda girl, was a pleaseant surprise...(9lives, since you couldn't make it, I drank yours!!) It started out way too sweet, then by the time it rolled to the back of your tongue, a bitter, dry breeze zapped it into a light, crisp experience...The same thing was true of all the flavors; they started with one taste, then turned in to something spicier, or more aromatic or, "What was THAT spice????"
We started with a selection of appetizers, 1)ground beef sambus, flavored w/garlic,cumin and onions, and 2)lentil and green pepper sambus, same spices...Fried VERY crispey, the hounds like these little turnovers more than samosas because of the crispiness and non- oilyness. Ye-Awaze Dabo, a heavy, whole grain bread was served with a thick ginger and pepper paste...So hearty, yet so spicey with that ginger!! Ayib Begomen was a buttermilk cottage cheese, which started out so mild, then left a peppery taste..
The first, must-have entree was the Kifto, Ethiopian steak tartare..As veggie voyeurs, Cfox and I wanted to watch them slam down that raw-beef, but they seemed less-than-enthralled by the heavy does of butter mixed into it....(butter is BIG in Ethiopian cooking) One of the carnivores will have to fill us in..They seemed way more excited by the most "chowhound-challenging" dish of Dulet; chopped red-meat, chopped liver and chopped tripe, in spiced butter and chili powder. The chowhounds rose to the occasion, and devoured this most unusual dish.(Imagine vultures on the African plains.. :) )
The favorite, amazingly enough, and the dish where someone could have lost a hand if we had forks, was the Yasa Wat, chunky white fish cooked in Berbere(Ethipoian hot spice) and herbs...Firm chunks of white fish in a pungent sauce...Those meat-eaters went right for it..Every piece of injera under the stew was gone..
In fact, the veggies here had a consistancy and complexity that made them very appealing to omnivores...Our 2 person tasting platter of 4 veg entrees was very popular; we thought this would be a great dinner place for your favorite vegetarian. Our Timatim salad had juicey tomatoes and onions,hyped with a hot green pepper...Then the collards(no butter), cooked al dente in herbed oil, onions and peppers..Definitely not yo mama's collard greens, these still had bite and bitterness, not pot likker! Atkilt was a mix of potatoes, green beans, carrots and onions..Think of a chunky version of the filling inside a samosa. Yemeser Wat (lentils simmereD in hot spicy berbere sauce) and Mittin Shuro Wat(ground split peas, same sauce), were wonderful, if similar...We were forced to go back and forth between the two, trying to qualify the differences.
All of these dishes were intense, multi-layered flavors...It made me think of the wide range of Indian spices, yet without the oil...All cooked into spicey stews..The injera was light, and lent yet another texture to the experience...Our meal came to $18.50 a person, including a bottle of wine, a steal for the South End...The only caveat I would have is TELL THEM YOU WANT IT HOT!!!!! We felt that as intriguing as the flavors were, they held the heat level down when the saw our lily-white faces, and delicate rose-bud mouths...We needed a chowhound passport for this place!
There were 6 of us; Ben (who needs to post w/a better name!), his friend Steve, me, Rubee, Cfox, and her husband..Why, you ask, don't I know cfox's husband's name, after sitting across from the man and talking non-stop for 2 hours? Because right when I was going to ask him to repeat it, he launched into a topic near and dear to my heart--how to store ginger!! So I never got around to asking him, and must now beg forgiveness in a public place!!! But he had great ginger advice; now if only he'd start posting!!!
We had so much fun, we had to go across the street and have dessert at Aquitaine...Rubee FORCED us to eat some more!! (of course, she says I forced her to have a mussel appetizer there before we went to Addis Red Sea, but it was the shallots that made us do it!!) We still haven't decided what our next meal will be, tho.....
Thanks for the full bite-by-bite, galleygirl. Your description of that layering of flavors was right on.
One thing I just want to mention: we had the vegetable sambus, not the lentil-pepper ones. The veggies were finely minced, crisp and fresh-tasting. If I ever get over my fear of pastry dough, I'm gonna try this at home.
Sorry I missed dessert at Aquitaine...or was it worth regretting?
re: C. Fox
Ahh, I had a little problem about those lost notes..I think the annotated take-out menu is somewhere on the floor of Aquitaine..and they're not telling!!
Cool place, tho, I was reading their blackboard selections, and drooling...I don't eat them, but there was a duck ravioli with scavenged mushrooms! I almost attacked the salmon dinner one of the waitstaff was eating!! Rubee's bread pudding was overwhelmed by a delightful taste of bananas, and I had a petite chablis that I had sampled earlier...But the dessert wine the other 3 had was an epiphany--please help me here, you guys...It was the same change-up as our honey wine; started sweet, got complex and dry...But it was even better!!!
I believe the waiter said it was a muscadet, but I didn't get specifics as I just went with his suggestion (BTW - Aquitaine has a great wine list and very knowledgeable waitstaff). The two desserts were a creme brulee with sauterne-poached pears and the caramel bread pudding with bananas. I thought the bread pudding was good, but still doesn't compare with my two favorite bread puddings in Boston (should I start another thread?!) - Figs and Prezza, who both offer different versions of a white chocolate bread pudding. Steve and Ben will have to put their two cents in on the creme brulee....
BTW, the mussels (before dinner!!) were wonderful - plump, sweet mussels in a sauterne and shallot cream sauce.
The Creme brulee w/ the pears is just wonderful. Nice crunchy, slightly bitter crust w/ rich gooey custards. Very good consistency... And the pear is great too. The best of all is that, it's not overly sweet, and goes fantastic w/ the muscadet (which is also very flavorful, tangy, and not overly sweet).
Nice place... think I will visit again for the food =)
I don't think injera is steamed; maybe I'm wrong. T'eff is said to be an especially nutritious grain.
The honey wine, t'ej, is made with gesho, which Ethiopians sometimes call 'woody hops' but is actually a bitter, woody substance unrelated to hops.
Regarding the kitfo, as you say, Ethiopian cooking uses lots of spiced, clarified butter, called kibi.
I can't say I'm great at eating with injera, and I eat left-handed, a definite no-no. Hence, I'm a big fan of gursha, the practice of hand-feeding another, as long as I'm on the receiving end.
If there is quanta on the menu, you might want to try it. It's the Ethiopians' spin on jerky, rather hard, but spicy and good. I enjoy quanta fir fir, and also once had a quanta pizza. If you don't see it on the menu, ask for it. They probably make it all the time for their Ethiopian customers.
re: Jim Dorsch
.... "Injera (a thin but spongy sourdough bread as large as a tabletop) made from the Ethiopian highland grain teff the smallest grain in existence. Injera is made by mixing ground teff with water and allowing it to ferment. It is then cooked as you would pancake batter over flat clay griddles."
Imagine cooking a pancake til not quite brown on the griddle side, then not turning it, but maintaining that bubbley consistancy...
"Tef grain is ground into flour, fermented and made into Injera. Teff has symbiotic yeast which facilitate the short fermentation of the batter. When the batter is ready it is poured on a hot Mitad, a large flat clay pan and allowed to cook only one side."
You guys appear to be right, about that non-steaming stuff...Maybe I got that from the rest.'s website....It just SEEMED to have a steamed consistancy, because of the lack of color (you're not supposed to let it get brown..), or the texture from the fermemntation...The one thing that amazed me was how light it was, despite all the HEAVT sounding descriptions!
Bravo GG! Great descriptions of our meals, you actually made me crave some of the food again (the kitfo, beef sambusa, and the cabbage salad that the two vegetarians didn't even get a chance to try! ;) )
I liked the atmosphere - It's small, two floors of several cozy rooms decorated with colorful carpets, Ethiopian objects, and stools surrounding the serving tables - woven, hour-glass shaped baskets called mesobs. The food is served family-style on platters the size of the table top, lined with the bread called injera. You start off the meal with warm, moist towels to clean your hands.
It's really not as hard to eat with your hands as you would think because the bread is slightly chewy and spongy, comes in huge rounds, and soaks up all the liquid. It's thin, like a crepe, and it's easy to rip off a piece and use it to wrap around a filling.
I actually did like the Kitfo and would order it again. I think it wasn't as popular with everyone because the texture and temperature were a little different than we expect with "tartare". Because it's mixed with clarified herb butter, it was soft (almost a puree-like texture) and warm, as opposed to a chilled steak tartare. But I liked it, and the "mitmita" (chili powder/spices?) added a nice bite to cut the richness of the butter.
Wow... galleygirl, I think you outdone yourself!! I just remembered a real good meal ;-).
The Dulet is indeed good. Especially for those who like meat. I think I like it so much due to its very intense, concentrated flavor. Steve also commented that it tasted very "Chinese/Asain" to him.
The Kifto is a dissapointment for me. It is not as spicey/intense as I had thought, and the consistency of the meat is not as raw as I had wanted (felt more like marzipan actually...).
The atmosphere, including the eating style is very relaxing and indusive to chatting and drinking. And eating w/ your hand seemed very natural and is actually quite neat as your hand pretty much onyl touches the bread at all time.