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Ethiopian Chowdown at Enssaro, Oakland

Twelve of us had a delicious dinner at Enssaro Tuesday night. I was intrigued by comments that Enssaro was better than Cafe Colucci, so I decided to resurrect the defunct Ethiopian chowdown series and check it out. We ordered:

From the appetizers:
Ye Timatim Fit-Fit -- salad of torn-up injera an diced tomatoes, chiles and spices

From the meats:

Special Kitfo
Lightly cooked or rare minced lean beef. Spiced with ethiopian cheese, mitmit, and Ethiopian style clarified butter.

Ye Bere Tibs
Tenderized, lean, cubed beef, cooked in a flavorful Berbere sauce.

Ye Beg Wot
Lean, cubed lamb slowly simmered with berbere (Ethiopian spicy red pepper) and combination of seasonings.

Gomen Besiga
Lean, cubed beef slow-cooked and blended with kale, peppers, ginger, garlic and onions. Also can be made with Lamb and Chicken (we had it with chicken)

Bozena Shirow
Finely grounded splot peas, and chickpeas simmered in minced beef with Ethiopian organic clarified butter and a combination of seasonings.

Banatu
Made using a unique blend peaces of Enjera and hot aromatic spices, cubed lean beef, fresh tomatoes, onions, and garlic to give it a distinctive and potent flavor (at the waitress' recommendation, we had it with lamb).

From the vegetable section:

Yetsome Beyaynetu -- Vegetarian combination which includes:
Messer Wot (spicy lentil dish is cooked slowly with organic, hand crushed Ethiopian spices) Kik-Alicha (low simmered dish of whole yellow pigeon peas with garlic, onion, ginger, and turmeric powder)
Ata- kilt (medley of slow-cooked vegetables, including fresh cabbage, carrots, and potatoes, sautéed with fresh, onions, ginger, garlic and turmeric)
Gommen (fresh collard greens sautéed with onion, garlic, ginger, and tomato).

Acham yelesh Shiro
This is a tasty, yet light dish made using imported chickpea powder, sun dried spices, and freshly sautéed garlic and onions. It is a spicy and savory dish with a very thin, smooth texture.

As it typical, everything came with baskets of injera, and we also ordered a bottle of honey wine ($15).

Service was warm but we had a little difficulty explaining that even though everything was served family style (various foods grouped on injera-lined platters), we wanted two platters to minimize passing. By the time the last set of dishes came out, they'd gotten it straight, though.

Total with tax and a 18 percent tip, but minus a $25 restaurant.com certificate came to $153. We rounded up the tip so the final bill was $14/person.

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Enssaro
366 Grand Ave, Oakland, CA

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  1. So, basically, I thought it lived up to the hype. When Ethiopian food is done poorly, the flavors get muddy and the dishes tend to taste the same. These dishes were all distinctive and complexly seasoned. My favorites were the two versions of Gommen, one vegetarian and one (Gomen Besiga, but when I selected chicken she changed "besiga" to "yedoro'), which was bright with ginger and had both a sweetness and a tang. My other favorite was one of the lamb dishes. I'm not sure which one, but I think it was the Banatu). I thought both the beef dishes were forgettable. I had ordered the "special" version of the Kitfo (and ordered it raw) and this was one case where I thought the flavors did get muddy. I'd give the regular kitfo a try, though, before I decide to go back to Cafe Colucci for my kitfo fix.

    All the vegetarian dishes were stellar -- I liked the addition of chunks of beet to the Ata-kilt, and I liked the fact that the pigeon peas in the Kik-Alicha were firm and not cooked to mush. The timatim fit-fit packed a nice green chile heat.

    Thanks to everyone for coming out -- it was nice to see some new faces. We'll have to do this again soon.

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    Cafe Colucci
    6427 Telegraph Ave, Oakland, CA 94609

    1 Reply
    1. re: Ruth Lafler

      Interesting you say that about flavors getting muddy - that has always been my impression of Ethiopian food - everything tastes the same. That makes me want to try Ensarro - I've only been to Addis and Colucci, and both those were at least 10 years ago when I said, ok, done that. Good to know.

    2. Thanks, Ruth, for organizing the chowdown. I enjoyed meeting everyone and getting to put faces behind the names and posts I've read.

      We had another dish not listed above: Ye Doro Wat (I have the benefit of looking at the pics). An unforgettable, savory dish potent with rich flavor. A combination of fresh chicken drum, Ethiopian red sauce, and boiled eggs characterize this famous Ethiopian cuisine. A traditional food always present at celebrations and special occasions.

      Last night was a tasty introduction to new flavors. I thought the dishes were distinctly seasoned. The lamb cubes were very tender in the lamb dishes. I also enjoyed mopping up the different sauces/gravies with the enjera. I liked both versions of the Gommen and thought meat was very tender in both the lamb dishes.

      Here are some pics: of the vegetarian combination platter (Yetsome Beyaynetu, enjera, and fit-fit)

       
       
       
      1. Three more pics (special kitfo with ata-kilt and acham yelesh shiro (?), two views of the meat dishes:

         
         
         
        4 Replies
        1. re: AntarcticWidow

          Thanks for the pictures, AW! I can't believe I forgot the doro wat. Does anyone know for sure which dish the item at three o'clock in the middle picture is? Because that was one of my two favorite meat dishes. Although I woke up today craving the gommen, which hit my favorite flavor profiles dead on.

          1. re: Ruth Lafler

            Thanks to Ruth for setting this up. I also thank AW for the photos, especially since I didn't know the names of the various dishes.

            All of the food was really well-spiced and balanced. One of my favorites was the center picture in the second set of photos posted by A.W. It was the one that somebody said was raw meat....I think it was "cooked" in lemon juice or some citrus-y juice. In any case, all the food was tasty and each dish stood out on its own.

            I hadn't had Ethiopian food for a long time after going every week for months to Blue Nile about 20 years ago. Now I find that this wonderful place is just across the lake from my house! What luck!

            And we were mourning Mr. Sushi, which used to be one of our monthly dining out experiences...it was replaced by Coach Sushi which we found to be a poor replacement.

            The conversation was great....where else could one talk for 20 minutes about Meyer Lemons and find it terrifically entertaining? AND get a recipe for "posset".

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            Coach Sushi
            532 Grand Ave, Oakland, CA 94610

            1. re: oakjoan

              I think the raw meat dish was the Kitfo. I really liked this dish too, though I'm ordinarily not much of a beef eater, much less raw beef. Something about the combination of the beef, the butter and all the spices was very appealing to me. Not the sort of thing I'd normally have tried on my own, but it was very nice. The injira on the bottom that was soaked with clarified butter and spices was great to nibble on when we were done too.

              1. re: Martin Strell

                See, I like raw beef, so I was disappointed that the other ingredients overwhelmed the taste of the beef. But I did order the "special" version with more stuff in it, so it was my fault I didn't love it. You're right, though, that the butter and spice soaked injera was delicious. Sometimes I think the whole point of an Ethiopian meal is to eat the stuff on top of the injera so you can get to the injera underneath that's absorbed all the flavors.

        2. My favorite was the doro wat. Very rich with spiced butter, both sauce and drumstick. I'd definitely go back for that.

          1. Thanks to Ruth for hosting this event - good food, very pleasant company. I found the meal to be pleasant, although nothing absolutely knocked my socks off. I did enjoy the special kitfo and Banatu and the vegetable dishes - particularly the Gommen.

            1 Reply
            1. re: Tom Simonson

              Thanks for putting this together Ruth.

              Easy favorite for us was the Kitfo. Very nice delicate flavors and tender beef.

              It was also great to meet you hounds. Great conversation had by all, and tips exchanged.

            2. May I ask how Enssaro compares to Zeni? I'd love a place for Ethiopian for which I didn't have to trek to San Jose for.

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              Enssaro
              366 Grand Ave, Oakland, CA

              1 Reply
              1. re: sfbing

                I don't know if any of the people at the chowdown had been to Zeni. I guess you'll have to try it and let us know how you think they compare.