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Mar 5, 2008 02:05 PM

Abyssinia Ethiopian Restaurant-New in Santa Rosa

Hello all!

Fans of the recently-closed Santa Trata will be absolutely knocked out by the new Abyssinia Ethiopian Restaurant at 913 4th Street, between Brookwood and E Streets, at the site of the former Nhabee Cafe. The room is not much different, most likely the same chairs and tables. Pictures of famous sites in Ethiopia as well as some goatskin paintings and other art are pleasant to look at. The service was perfect. The young man who seated us and took our orders was obviously proud of his offerings and helpful in making our choices. He was attentive but not over-eager throughout the meal.

I specifically took a take out menu with me so I would be able to write the names of the dishes we had. Now I can't find it, so bear with me while I do my best.

The menu consisted of two appetizers, a large selection of meat entrees, an equally large selection of vegetarian entrees, soft drinks, iced tea, and beer, including a beer from Ethiopia and a beer from Eritrea if I remember correctly. We had the Eritrean beer, which was very nice, and a Corona, which went very well with the food. I think there was also one white and one red wine offered. I don't recall seeing dessert on the menu.

Three of us ate there, including my mother-in-law, who doesn't like spicy food. We were all very pleased with our choices. We shared the lentil appetizer, which is served slightly chilled. It was served with wedges of what looked like flour tortillas. Don't worry, injera is on the way. The salad was very good, with lentils, green peppers, and perhaps some other veggies. It's not at all spicy, so some may find it too tame, but I thought it was a good start. Our server brought us more tortillas when we ran out.

My husband and I shared the meat and vegetable combo entree for two. I think it was $20.00. It was a huge platter covered by the longed-for injera. The injera here is not as airy or sour as Santa Trata's, but was very good. There were dollops of three meat dishes and three vegetable dishes on the injera. More injera is served to each person on the side. At first I thought I could have eaten all six dollops myself, but that proved to be a delusion.

The dishes varied by the spice mixed use as the base for the sauce. I remember that the mitmita is very hot, with a great kick, and berbere was less spicy, but still with enough heat to please me, and I really like heat. Both have red pepper in them, I think.

The meat dishes were out of this world. I highly recommend the chicken served with a hard boiled egg. I think it was called Doro Wot. It was perfectly spiced and had a bit of heat. The sauce had a spicy red pepper base, butter, onions, ginger, lemon juice and other spices and was not at all heavy. The two lamb dishes were also excellent. My husband and I had a split decision over which one was best. He perferred the hotter of the two, while I liked the complexity of the tamer dish. Our salads were a cooling cabbage, potato, and carrot mix, a delicious lentil salad that differed from the appetizer, and some sliced tomato and lettuce mix. All were very good.

My mother-in-law had the vegetarian platter. She was able to order it for one, although it is listed as for two on the menu. I think she was charged $10.00. The kitchen was happy to accomodate her request to have non-spicy dishes, so she may have had some substitutions from the regular menu version of the entree. In addition to the three salads we had, she was served the BEST collard greens of this cuisine that I've ever had. They were not at all bitter. Fabulous. She also had a garbanzo bean salad that may have been served as a paste, like hummus. I can't recall. I also can't recall the sixth salad on her platter. Everything was fresh and delicious.

I feel guilty saying this, but I think Abyssinia is much better than Santa Trata. The spices are more interesting and everything is so fresh and perfectly prepared. I really liked Santa Trata and the family that owned it, but I gotta call it like I see it.

I am so happy this restaurant has opened. Now all we have to do is show up frequently so it succeeds. I'm in!

Abyssinia Ethiopian Restaurant
913 4th Street
(707) 568-6455

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  1. Thanks for the tip. Be sure to keep us updated.

    913 4th St, Santa Rosa, CA 95404

    4 Replies
    1. re: rworange

      Thanks for the placemark.

      I found the take out menu. Here's the scoop:

      I forgot to mention that Abyssinia serves breakfast on the weekends from 9:30 to 11:30 am. The breakfast menu includes foul, a popular dish made from mashed garbanzo beans, green peppers, and onions, served with yogurt. They also serve things I've never tried; ehilkibe, genfilefel, kinche, kita firfir, and scrambed eggs with vegetables. Look the dishes up on the internet for full descriptions. Prices are from $4.50 to $4.95.

      The lentil appetizer we had the night we were there for dinner is called Azifa. It's described as lentils with hints of red onion and green pepper, stirred with mustard and lemon. I didn't notice the mustard taste.

      The other appetizers are but'echa, a chickpea dip that sounds like humus with ginger and onion in it. Turns out there is a third appetizer, yetelba fitfit, described as powdered flax seed mixed with pieces of injera and served slightly chilled. Appetizers range from $4.50 to $5.

      The menu offered at the table explained the spices used as bases in different entrees. Netir kibe is butter cooked with garlic, ginger, cardamom, coriander, and other spices. Mitmita is made from very hot peppers, onions, garlic, cumin, ginger and other spices. Berbere is less hot than mitmita, and has peppers, garlic, onion and other spices. Awaze is really interesting. It's berbere mixed with honey wine. Our server brought us some to taste. It's a bit like a spicy ketchup with a prominent sundried tomato presence.

      The chicken dish I liked so much is the Doro We't, $13.95 for the entree. The menu describes it as "An Ethiopian delicacy. Spicy chicken stew simmered in berbere, garlic, onion, and nitre kibe. Served with hard-boiled egg. I can't say enough about this dish. The stew sauce was so delicious. It has a touch of heat, but not high heat.

      The two lamb dishes on our platter were Yebeg Key We't, $12.95 for the entree, and Yebeg Alecha, $12.95 for the entree. It's possible I've got these confused, so if you're trying to choose between them, ask the server which one is really the hotter one. If I've got it right, the Yebeg Key We't was my husband's favorite of the lamb dishes, and I think was the "hotter" of the two. "Lamb cubes stewed with awaze and onion." I thought the heat in this didn't allow the other spices to come through, even though the awaze we tried plain didn't seem as hot. Go figure. The Yebeg Alecha was amazing. I loved the complex spices in this. "Delicately stewed lamb strips seasoned with garlic, onion, turmeric, and ginger."

      The notes I wrote on the take out menu for the veggie dishes we had were not extensive, but I can tell I really liked the Miser We't, $10.95 for the entree, "Lentils stewed in a red-pepper sauce and Ethiopian spices." I simply wrote, "Fabulous." It was more interesting than the lentil appetizer, so if you are only going to have one lentil dish, this, in my view, would be the one. As I mentioned earlier, I also really liked the Tikel Gomen, $10.50 for the entree, the cabbage, carrots, and potato dish that's lightly cooked with Ethiopian spices. Although both of these are available as vegetarian entrees, I would prefer the Miser We't if I were having a single dish for my meal.

      The collard greens we all loved so much are called Yabesha Gomen, $10.50 for the entree. I can't recommend this dish highly enough. "Collard greens cooked lightly with green pepper and garlic." I've never been able to cook collard greens this well and rarely had them this well prepared at a restaurant. They really are lightly cooked, and so nicely spiced.

      The other meat entrees are:

      1. Kifto, "Ethiopian steak tartar," $12.95

      2. Special Kifto, "Ethiopian steak tartar served in netir kibe and seasoned with mitmita. Served raw or rare with homemade cottage cheese." $13.95

      3. Gored Gored, "Tender beef cubes blended with awaze and light nitre kibe. Served raw." $12.95

      4. Tibs, "Beef cubes marinated in Ethiopian spices and sauteed with green pepper, tomato, onion and traces of jalapeno. $13.95.

      5. Abbyssinia Combo-this is the combo my husband and I had. $19.95

      The other vegetarian dishes:

      1. Shiro "The Ethiopian Hummus" $10.95

      2. Miser Alecha "Lentil stew flavored with garlic ginger and a touch of tumeric and jalapeno." $10.95

      3. Yater Kik Alecha "Mild split peas flavored with garlic, ginger, and turmeric." $10.95

      4. The Vegetarian Combo for two is "A delightful mix of vegetables: shiro, miser we'et, yater kik alecha, yabesha gomen, and tikel gomen with tomato salad. $18.95

      The Eritrean beer we had is named "Asmara" after Eritrea's capital. It's light and refreshing. $5.25. The Ethiopian beer, "Harar" is the same price. Heineken and Corona are $4.50. Soft drinks and hot drinks are $1.75 to $2.

      The restaurant also does a traditional coffee ceremony at certain times. I have an Eritrean friend who has treated us to this. It's worth going to.

      Hours are:

      M-F 11AM to 2 PM and 4 PM to 9PM
      Sat 9:30 AM to 10 PM
      Sun: 9:30 AM to 9 PM

      Let's do our best to give this restaurant a long and prosperous life!

      1. re: snarkygirl

        looking forward to the trek--- perhaps a chowdown is in order... my short human who is half Ethiopian will definitely want to check the place out-- he is my ultimate Injera tester....

        1. re: snarkygirl

          Thanks so much for typing that up. I'm starting to get interested in Ethiopian food.There are some herbs that are similar but a bit different. IIRC, Etheopean cardamom is a little different.

          The mustard is senafich which in this Chow article about the three varieties of mustard sort of lumps it in with the others

          However, I think it might be different. Here's some info

          If you look at this Etheopian spice store there is a picture of the seeds in the spice link

          So that may or may not be why there wasn't a typical mustard taste to the Azifa.

          1. re: rworange

            Hi Mimi! and Thanks Rworange!

            Mimi, I think your short human will approve, as much as a short human can! I'll post to the nbchowdown group. Let's see if we can get something shaking.

      2. Lentil Salad, Tortillas & Corona for appetizers... finally a Mexican place in down town =)

        1. Thanks so much for the review! I was peering in through the window the other day, but it was a Tuesday, when they're closed. I was sad when Santa Trata closed, and this is right in my neighborhood.

          1. The original comment has been removed
            1. Took me a whole year, but last month I finally had a chance to try Abyssinia. Five of us wound down from back-to-back barrel tasting weekends here. The cold Ethiopian beers and spicy and exotic fare eaten out of hand turned out to be the perfect antidote to our excesses of wine and fancy cuisine. I’m happy to report that the cooking is still as good as everyone posted earlier. One of my dining companions used to live in Washington DC, and he said that he couldn’t think of any Ethiopian food during his time there that could top this.

              A couple things we tried haven’t been discussed yet. We started with a two orders of iambuses stuffed with ground beef, onion and green pepper. Fried to a crackly crunch and surprisingly greaseless, the filling was a bit plain and straightforward. This turned out to be a good warm-up to wipe the slate clean for the diverse palette of spices that would soon follow. Also, our mains were slow to come out of the kitchen, so I’m glad we had ordered appetizers.

              Pair of Sambusas, $5

              For our group of five, we picked the meated combo and vege combo, each serving two, plus the kitfo. When I asked about the Special kitfo, raw beef tartare with homemade cottage cheese, I let our server know that we wanted it spicy. He asked me if I’d had it before. Not here, but I know the dish, I said. He assured me that it would be quite spicy but he’d give us some extra pepper to add ourselves.

              Special kitfo, $13.95

              We needn’t have been concerned; the kitfo was stained red with the coating of mitmita pepper and blazing hot spicy, which made for an interesting contrast to the refrigerator-cold temperature.

              Extra mitmita pepper . . . we didn't need it.

              I loved the doro wat, and one friend remarked that it’s everything he wishes that mole de pollo could be. Pulling up this thread when I got home and reading EN’s comment, of course, brought a chuckle. Glossy and rich with a buttery sheen, the dusky flavors were so complex and deep as to be indescribable as separate elements. The chicken had a long-stewed softness but hadn’t lost its moisture.

              Abyssinia combination platter for two, $19.95

              While I liked the meated samplings on the Abyssinia combo, other than the doro we’t, I think I preferred the mélange on the vegetarian combo. The collard greens are as sensational as others have said before. I felt that the spicing variations were more distinctive in the vegetable courses than with meat as a backdrop.

              Vegetarian combination platter for two, $18.95

              The only place where I felt the cooking fell down was the injera. Not as sour or bubbly light as I prefer, but then again, I try to not eat too much of it to avoid “injera bloat”. We tried just about every Ethiopian beer on the menu, wish I’d kept track of what they were. Earlier we’d enjoyed the Sunday happy hour at Russian River Brewing Co with many wacky and interesting brews to get geeky and analytical about. Here at Abyssinia, we found refreshing beers for drinking and washing down the spicy food.

              Ordering the equivalent of two apps and five entrees for our group of five, we had more food than we could eat, no matter how delicious. The value equation here is terrific, and I look forward to returning for the weekend breakfast.

              (Wish I could link to a Place, but not working for me right now.)

              3 Replies
              1. re: Melanie Wong


                913 4th St, Santa Rosa, CA 95404

                1. re: Melanie Wong

                  Melanie, my husband and I are up here now, and are so glad to have this place in our neighborhood! We love it here. The family is SO fantastic, great vibe. Thanks for givin' this the bump!

                  1. re: Jeni Bean

                    You are fortunate! Have you tried breakfast/brunch here? Please do keep us updated on any new happenings at Abyssinia. It is a gem.

                    I'm also very glad to hear that you're loving your new home. Some of your chow reports have had the opposite effect, but I guess the trials of finding new favorites (and sifting through the chaff) is all part of being in a new place. Santa Rosa is a just a bit too far south for my own home range, but I'm glad to have you up here and posting about your experiences. Hope to see you soon.