Best Ethiopian in Bay Area?
We have some friends we dine with often, and their daughter is studying Ethiopia in school and is fascinated by it. it occurred to us she might like to try Ethiopian food.
What's the best? and it has to be appropriate for a four-year old.
in which part of the Bay Area do you dine ? many of the places in the east bay are small, informal, and neighborhood cafe in character. has the four year old been introduced to any spicy foods (Indian babies get chili in their baby food, so they say) ? some Ethiopian/Eritrean places also use a liberal amount of ghee in cooking, which could be too rich for someone not accustomed to it (not as rich as the heavily buttered popcorn in movie houses, but in combination with the tumeric and spice mixes it can be heavy for an uninitiated palate).
the staple, injera, is like a plain, sourdough pancake and not spicy or rich at all. the vegetable dishes are generally milder than those with meat, chicken, lentils, or split peas, so a vegetable based course with the injera would be a representative, but not overwhelming, introduction to the food. most versions of the vegetable and legume dishes in my experience in a range of eating places (oaktown and berserkley) are pretty similar. nearly every place has a vegetarian sampler suited to sharing, so the legume dishes would be an option to try along with the ones based on greens (often collard), carrots, and potato. if the child is sensitive to garlic, usually it's the collard greens that get a healthy dose, the carrot/cabbage/potato combination is very mild.
Most food is cooked to order and I'm sure you can easily get help from the waitperson about any food that would be suitable for a 4 yo (some of whom have pretty sophisticated palates :) )
It really depends where you will be eating - San Jose and East Bay have a lot of choices, the city not so much.
The really fun part is - Ethiopian food is eaten with your hands, it's served on a big platter with injera on the bottom and the "goodies" on top - can't imagine that a four yo wouldn't love that.
if the four year old has already relished Indian or Szechuan food or complex mesoamerican moles, almost anything from the Ethiopian/Eritrean kitchen will be child's play. even then, however, some parents would not want the immature immune system exposed to the dish based on raw, seasoned, red meat (similar to tartare/carpaccio), sometimes lightly seared.
To answer the primary question: We love Zeni. After some experimenting, we now always get the same thing: Miser Wot, Dulet and Kitfo (the last two served raw). Yes we get weirdest things on the menu... and they are all spicy (well the Kifto is not spicy until I douse it with enough chili pepper to impress the owner with my spice tolerance).
However, they do have a lot of not so weird things. All their vegetable dishes are all delicious and not so strange, and there are some meat dishes that are even fairly bland (like the Gomen Besiga). So I think you could definitely find some foods for the 4 year old. My biggest concern would be if she is well mannered enough to wash her hands and share a big communal plate (some 4 year olds are prim and proper and some are terrors)... It also may be hard for her to reach the communal plate; maybe they do something special for kids (I have seen kids there before but wasn't looking closely).
A lot of the clientele at Zeni is Ethiopian, and they have the traditional tables and will even do a special coffee ceremony if you order it (I haven't tried this yet), so it would be a cool place to visit for anyone studying Ethiopia.
One more important thing: anyone who doesn't like sourdough should avoid Ethiopian food... learned this the hard way with my sister. She didn't like the bread, so that meant she didn't like anything.
In SF, I love MOYA. The flavors in the dishes are bright and "clean," not homogeneous like the muddled piles of mush some Ethiopian places serve.
The restaurant is also more appropriate for a 4 year old than a lot of the super crowded places on Haight. It's clean, quiet, and although not in the best part of town it is fine by day. ymmv
I like Cafe Colucci. They make their injera with teff, some places substitute wheat.
6427 Telegraph Ave, Oakland, CA 94609