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Sep 3, 2007 04:34 PM

Dukem (Ethiopian resto review)

Last night pangolin and his band of kitchen rats made it to Dukem at 950 Danforth Ave. I have not dined at every Ethiopian place in the city, but Dukem is excellent. The service was occasionally a bit slow, but so far as I could tell, one girl was taking care of six or seven tables, and despite being in a constant state of motion, she seemed as efficient as possible under the circumstances, and maintained a fairly pleasant demeanour throughout.

The atmosphere is nothing special, but it is pleasant, extremely clean, and well maintained.

But, it's all about the food, right? We ordered kitfo (minced beef, traditionally served as tartar), doro wot (chicken stew), zilzil tibs (sauteed cubes of lamb), and the vegetarian combo. The only moment of confusion during the evening was a slightly comic exchange about the kitfo. One can ordered it seared, medium, or well done, as well as the raw. Whe ordering it I paused, and the server asked "well done?" Well, all of us were (very) pale faces (very much the minority in the restaurant), so perhaps she thought that we weren't up to the challenge. I asked for it seared, but raw. It arrived raw and unseared - minor quibble, and I didn't care. We said that we were going to share, and asked that we get a communal platter. The dishes arrived on the communal platter, surrounding a green salad, with a smaller dish holding a large stack of folded injera. The kitfo, garnished with a bit of dry cottage cheese and stewed spinach, was finely minced, and as fresh as one could hope for. The doro wot was a chicken leg and thigh, accompanied by the customary hard boiled egg, in a very rich and nuanced sauce, which, for all its richness, was not the least bit greasy - it might be the best I've had. The tibs (I've always wanted to say in an Ethiopian restaurant "They call me Mr Tibs", but haven't) was the only weak spot, as the cubes were a little bit tough, and there was less sauce than I like; but, that said, it was adequately flavourful, and actually the favourite of one the kitchen rats. The veg combo was stewed red lentils (excellent), stewed greens (good), and stewed yellow lentils (good). The injera seemed to be less dense than normal - a nice change. We went for the coffee ceremony (we ordered that when we ordered our food), which was a nice addition for the neophytes, but while it had the requisite pot, stand, and frankinsence, (as well as a huge bowl of popcorn) it was a bit perfunctory. Again, the poor girl was run off her feet, so I'm not really complaining.

So, all that food, plus two bottles of wine (your choices are a red and a white), three Heineken, and a vodka tonic, came to $105, including tax, but before tip. Dukem is a great little place. Go go go.

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  1. Second this, hungry_pangolin. Dukem is my go to spot for Ethiopian (though sadly have not been in awhile).

    1. Thanks for the mouthwatering report! I do love Ethiopian food, but haven't fully explored many of the options in Toronto (save Ethiopian House). How would the two compare?

      950 Danforth Ave, Toronto, ON M4J 1L9, CA

      2 Replies
      1. re: xtal

        Ethiopian House has somewhat better atmosphere, but certainly not as broad a selection of meats (very bovocentric menu). The selection of appetisers is broader at EH, though. As I mentioned, the tibs at Dukem was a little tough and dry, but not bad. It's a close call, but I prefer Dukem for the selection, especially if you're trying to acquaint yourself with the cuisine. The fact that the doro wot at Dukem was rich but greaseless (given that this was thigh/leg) is a definitely praiseworthy. The prices are comparable.So, I guess Dukem wins by a wot.

        1. re: hungry_pangolin

          Nice pun. :)

          Thanks for the comparison, my interest is piqued, and I will definitely visit Dukem soon.

      2. Thanks for the heads up. I went this weekend, and was very pleased.

        We had the awaze and veg combo. The veg dishes weren't hot enough (temperature-wise) but the awaze was piping hot, but all were very tasty, and nicely seasoned. As you say, the ambiance isn't... all that ambient, what with the televisions on, but the lights were dimmed and the incense smelled great.

        The only other place we've been to for Ethiopian food is Ethiopian House, but Dukem is our new favorite: the service is more attentive and the food comes in a reasonable amount of time (I'm your typical impatient Torontoian who can't bear waiting 1 hour for food to arrive a la EH).

        4 Replies
        1. re: Olivia

          You've really waited an hour for food at EH? How many people were there in your party? Admittedly, I've only been there three times and at each time in a group of two, but all three times, the food arrived within less than 30 mins, and it didn't feel like very long because we ordered an appetizer - which came promptly - to pass the time.

          While I love the food (this is the place that made me like Ethiopian), I do admit that the service at EH is generally poor. As soon as the entrees arrive, they forget that you exist. Every single time I went, I had to chase down the wait staff for water refills, and it's not like the restaurant was full: the wait staff just lingered near the back talking. Even very blatant, sustained eye contact (which they clearly noticed) didn't succeed in luring them over.

          1. re: vorpal

            A couple of observations.

            The service at EH can be spotty. Vorpal, dare I say, that the fact that you're a non-drinker chasing them down for water won't help your experience. I think that non-drinkers should get the same service as the rest of us, just that in a restaurant already known for having so-so service, if they're not making a premium off you, you can't expect much. Bad comment on them.

            I think that quality at EH is pretty good, but the meat selection is too limited. The beef dishes are good (never had a bad experience) but chicken not a regular item, and no lamb, is a bit lazy, especially since there are so many good Ethiopian places in the city. Its only real advantage is being right downtown without a significant mark-up.

            1. re: vorpal

              Actually, it was longer! There were four of us, we had a reservation for 8pm, and it was a Saturday (so they were wicked busy). We didn't eat until just before 9:30pm that night. Still though, it was a looong wait, especially for one member of our party who was 7mos pregnant at the time. On average though, when it's just the Mister and I, we wait anywhere from 30-45 mins for our food at EH.

              And sort of echoing hungry_pangolin's response, we are capital D drinkers, and even then ordering another round takes a while, so we`ve been known to order two at a time.

              Agreed, EH is also the place that made me like Ethiopian food, so I am very grateful for that.

            2. re: Olivia

              EH is my ethiopian standby, but we make a point to go off hours as the kitchen can get backed up.

              The service there cracks me up -- it's more like your sister or crabby aunt serving you than "servers". Those women can be really nice if they sense you're new and need direction. And they're terrific to us as regulars, though terrific means a smile of recognition and coming over quickly because they know we know our order -- it does not mean regular check ins thru out the mean. Just flag em down a bit more heartily than you would in a regular place -- they're pretty laid back.

              can't beat the food though, love it

            3. A question to all who have been to Ethiopian restaurants in TO. Do they ALL burn incense? As someone sensitive/allergic to strong fragances of any kind, I could not sit or eat in a restaurant where incense was being burned (as per the mention of Dukem above). Haven't tried Ethiopian yet, but the fragrance thing would be the deal breaker for me. Thanks

              3 Replies
              1. re: JamieK

                I can't speak for any of the others, but EH definitely does. I'm quite sensitive to incense and fragrance as well, but for some bizarre reason, it hasn't seemed to bother me there...

                1. re: JamieK

                  Generally, it's not that they burn incense all the time, but because it's part of the 'coffee ceremony', and the frankincense tends to hang around. You might be better off going to one of the more 'downscale' ones to avoid the aroma/odour. I would say that it was stronger at EH than at D., but that might just have been the night.

                  1. re: JamieK

                    I have found that the incense smell is not as bad at addis ababa as it was at EH.

                    I have no memory of incense at queen of sheba, but to be honest, I didn't particularly like Queen of Sheba (although it was years ago, it would be worth another try...)

                  2. Hey there !

                    How big is DUKEM? Is it large enough to seat a party - crowd of say, 10?


                    16 Replies
                    1. re: tp24

                      The restaurant is not very big, but when I have been there during the week for dinner or on the weekend for lunch, it has not been very busy and I think they could easily accomodate a group of 10. Might not be a bad idea before you go, to call and give them the heads up.

                              1. re: pescatarian

                                Going to DUKEM next week for a friend's birthday - how's the ambiance?

                                1. re: tp24

                                  Ambiance is not the selling point. It's a pretty simple store front type restaurant. But the food is reliable. I haven't had the coffee ceremony, but from what I've heard it is worthwhile.

                                  1. re: tp24

                                    Nothing special. An open room with a bar in the back and tables and chairs along the walls. It's clean and not at all cramped, but I'm hard-pressed to find much more to say than that. You don't go there for the ambiance.

                                    1. re: vorpal

                                      I'm planning the birthday there - will it be unimpressive in terms of atmosphere? we want good food, but we also want it to be cosy and nice.

                                      1. re: tp24

                                        The restaurant itself will be unimpressive in terms of atmosphere, but IMHO, great atmosphere can be conjured up by good conversation and food. Because it is not too busy, the atmosphere will allow good conversation and the food it good.

                                        1. re: pescatarian

                                          Always great at giving me a fast answer pescatarian! Thanks! :)

                                          1. re: tp24

                                            Glad to help. If you decide you aren't keen on the atmosphere, and you want to try a different cuisine (because I don't think any of the other Ethiopian offerings will provide a better atmosphere), I would suggest checking out Matahari on Baldwin. I was just there last week and the food (Malaysian) was fantastic, and it has a nice atmosphere.

                                            1. re: pescatarian

                                              Here's my DUKEM REVIEW:

                                              The last time I'd had Ethiopian food was at Ethiopian House at Wellesley and Yonge and although I was not entirely unimpressed, I knew if I were to try it again, it would have to be some really good Ethiopian to make me a fan of the cusine. Dukem has done that. And some.

                                              In trying to organize a surprise birthday party for a friend, one of the requirements was that it was Ethiopian. The other was that it was near a subway station. So, I turned to the world wide web for some help and good ol' reliable Chowhound is where I discovered people talking about Dukem and how good the food is there.

                                              They were right. The food was great and so was the service.

                                              Mike (the owner) and the the waitress (whose name I didn't catch unfortunately) did an awesome job making our party feel at home; fully accommodating our huge group (of 14 people by the end of the night) into their cosy, albeit small space.

                                              We had brought a cake with us, which they instantly accepted and placed into their fridge. They were on the ball with our drinks, our orders, and especially the "surprise" factor of our surprise party - making sure everything was perfect. We may have taken over the entire restaurant for four hours (my apologies to those who were at the restaurant while our raucous bunch was there).

                                              We each started off with a St. George (Ethiopian) Beer. Very tasty.

                                              The ambiance was intimate...the restaurant's not cramped by any means, but it's definitely not huge. However, it had enough tables (inside and outside on their patio) to accommodate us as well as other patrons without ever feeling stuffy. And, it was clean. As far as decor goes - they have a couple of tvs, a few paintings on the walls, plain tables and a red glow from the large neon "open" sign in the front and glowing bar in the back.

                                              But mostly they have amazing Ethiopian food.

                                              Mike knew just what to bring to the table - a couple of meat platters and one veggie platter - shared around with plenty of injera constantly replenishing our plates.

                                              The beef stews (both spicy and mild) were succulent and flavourful.

                                              The split peas, spinach/chard and lentils weren't mushy as I've had before...each with its own distinct flavour. The injera wasn't as sour as I've had before - everything was just delicious and perfect....and is this any indication that we cleaned it up?

                                              The wait for our food wasn't too long either, about 1/2 an hour or so.

                                              And the cost for 11 of us was about $200 including beers/drinks, so about $20-22 a person. Good deal, I say!

                                              Would I go again? Most definitely.

                                              My thanks go out to all the Chowhounders who recommended this venue. The birthday girl was very happy.

                                              Check out my blog for the pics!
                                              Thanks again guys!

                                              1. re: tp24

                                                i'm glad that your review was both recent and positive.
                                                my fiance and i are Dukem regulars. the owner and the chef know us from our frequent visits.
                                                we fell in love it with it during our first visit and we used to go there every 2-3 weeks.

                                                then we noticed that the quality and the service level dropped off slightly. there were two new servers who seemed overwhelmed if the resto was more than half full. and our wait time for our food increased to almost-Ethiopian House proportions, but not as unpleasant.

                                                we love the place but said we would wait until they got the service back under control.

                                                my only other "knock", although its a tolerable knock, is that you never know how your food will taste when its served. its inconsistent, yet its consistently good. for example, zilzil tibs will taste amazing one visit, but the next time you go, it won't taste the same type of amazing - it will still be amazing, but have a noticeably different flavour. and that's especially true with the veggie combos - sometimes a lentil dish will be sweeter, sometimes it will be downright spicy. but its always great.

                                                but its still my favourite Ethiopian restaurant in the city -you cannot beat the taste and the prices.

                                                1. re: atomeyes

                                                  Awesome - good to know atomeyes!

                                                  I'd definitely be going back :)

                                                  1. re: tp24

                                                    Just to follow up on my last post - we ended up going there wednesday night for dinner (could not resist our cravings).

                                                    we saw the owner and the newish server was still there.

                                                    we sat outside on their patio and ordered the tibs and veggie platter combo (got the wet tibs this time, not the dry, pan-friend tibs that i usually love). just an FYI: they excel at goat, so i wouldn't even bother looking at beef tibs as an option.

                                                    we ordered and the food was out within 15 minutes.

                                                    the tibs were cooked to perfection! incredibly moist, cooked perfectly and insanely flavourful. our veggie combos were incredible as well. today, some were slightly spicy, but that's all good. and they kindly listened to our request and held the gomen (collard greens, which we do not like no matter where we go).

                                                    my faith in Dukem was restored! it still wears the crown of being my favourite Ethiopian resto in Toronto (hell, it is better than the Ethopian I've had in other Canadian and US cities - even better than the ethiopian i had in Jerusalem!) and being one of my favourite great-tasting-great-value restaurants in this city.

                                                    if you haven't tried it, i encourage you to do so.