As of January 1, 2016, Gapers Block has ceased publication. The site will remain up in archive form. Please visit Third Coast Review, a new site by several GB alumni.
 Thank you for your readership and contributions over the past 12-plus years. 

TODAY

Monday, February 18

Gapers Block
Search

Gapers Block on Facebook Gapers Block on Flickr Gapers Block on Twitter The Gapers Block Tumblr


Airbags

When dinner begins with the person sitting across the table from you offering up a pocket-size bottle of hand sanitizer and then insisting you use it, you can be sure you are in for an interesting meal indeed.

At first, I was offended by what I considered a very germaphobic demand -- especially when he handed the bottle to my boyfriend after I had finished. Then, I remembered that Addis Abeba, like many Ethiopian restaurants, adheres to a communal style of eating (up to four people share the same plate and eat with their hands). I was at once grateful that obsessive cleanliness was being encouraged and made sure the bottle was passed to the other six people at the table.

No matter how often you frequent Addis Abeba, ordering is always a bit of a challenge. The only part of the menu that isn't complicated is the list of appetizers, which is comprised of only three items. The entrees are so filling that I would usually advise skipping this first course. However, it was close to 9 p.m. and we were all starving, so we ordered a round of sambusa for the table along with a carafe of white wine. The sambusa -- lentils, onions, and jalapenos surrounded by a warm, flaky pouch that looked identical to a samosa -- was a decent beginning to our meal.

With the appetizers out of the way, we set about ordering dinner -- not an easy task, by any means. Addis Abeba's menu is divided into vegetarian entrees and fish/meat entrees, or you can choose from a variety of veggie-meat combos, fish-meat combos, veggie-veggie combos, etc. These combinations are definitely the best value as they allow you to choose (up to) any three dishes on the entire menu, but they require the most thought process since everything looks so good.

If you are one of those people who tends to freak out when your mashed potatoes and gravy accidentally mixes in with your peas or if you have used one of those plates with the dividers in the last year, I would suggest not reading past this point. All of the entrees are served on the same gigantic platter with the juices from each dish running into each other. The server points to where your entree(s) are located and you reach across the table to the basket of injera (flat, spongy bread that looks and tastes like a pancake), rip off a huge piece, and dig right in. The injera acts as a sort of utensil to scoop up the veggies and meat and often you will bump hands with your neighbors as they move in for the next bite. The whole process is incredibly messy and gloriously delicious.

Since there were so many people at dinner that evening, I had the privilege of sampling a lot of food. The vegetarian inquodai was a mushy blend of sautéed mushrooms and yellow split peas; I thought it to be a bit mild at first, but I found myself returning to it as well as the gomen -- spinach cooked with onions and garlic -- again and again as a welcome break from the other spicy options on the plate. The doro wot was a stew of chicken, garlic, and cloves simmered in a red pepper sauce with honey wine, cinnamon, and cardamom; the fiery fumes of the garlic and red pepper rode shotgun with the sweet cinnamon and clove flavors. I wasn't that enthralled by the lone drumstick hiding in the stew -- eating it without any sort of utensils proved to be difficult.

I had ordered the doro tibs, a tasty dish that attracted quite a bit of attention at my table --cubes of chicken breast and onions stir fried in a spicy jalapeno and garlic sauce; it was the first part of the platter to be wiped clean. The most popular entree by far was the shish kebobs. I realize kebobs aren't the most exotic of options, but these definitely deserve some mention. Tender chunks of beef or chicken are marinated in oregano and white wine, grilled, and then served over a couscous-like mixture -- nothing all that original, but the peppery yogurt drizzled on top is worthy of serious raving.

Addis Abeba is a great place for a celebration or a special occasion in the sense that it can accommodate large groups of people and the communal feast makes for quite an entertaining experience. However, this forced interaction could make dining with people you don't know well somewhat uncomfortable. In our case, the situation worked out well even though we were meeting some of the people at our table for the first time: By the end of the meal (long after we had dealt with the hygiene issue), we were laughing with our new friends and even trying each other's meals. But I can imagine a worst-case scenario in which you would have to endure watching people who repulse and annoy you dip their bare hands again and again and again into your food, scooping up that which is rightfully yours -- not a pretty sight, I bet.

Also, if quick service and an attentive staff are your top priorities, I would make reservations somewhere else. But if you're ready to roll up your sleeves, dive into a platter full of delectable meats and veggies simmered in fragrant spices, and wash it all down with a swallow of honey wine, Addis Abeba is your place. Just be sure to wash your hands.

Addis Abeba is located at 3521 N. Clark St. Entree prices range from $8-$12.50.

GB store

Comments

Seth Zurer / February 2, 2004 11:35 AM

I think there are some cultural issues in play when addressing slow service at Ethipian restaurants in chicago and elsewhere: to wit, if you have ethiopian staff the standard of service and expectations of how much time you want to spend at the table are very different from the expectations of promptness and customer care that Americans have gotten used to. Almost every place I've been to in Chicago and DC (where many of the ethiopian immigrants in chicago arrived first in the States) has had service that would be considering at best slow and at worst insulting.

This is especially the case at my favorite Ethipian place in Chicago for the food, Ras Dashen on Broadway north of Bryn Mawr. The food is excellent - careful clean flavors, fresh injeera, terrific kitfo, the raw ground steak with chili and onion dish (again, not for the faint of heart), and a really friendly owner/chef who roasts her own green coffee beans in a skillet for the post prandial coffee service. But it invariably takes 30 minutes or more for the check to arrive, and requests for more bread are met with indifference and unpredictable success.

There're a lot of great threads on Ethiopian food in chicago over on the chicago chowhound message board. Thanks for the review, and for the continued attention to chicago restaurants on Gapers Block.

 

About the Author(s)

GB store

GB Store

GB Buttons $1.50

GB T-Shirt $12

I ✶ Chi T-Shirts $15