Wednesday, August 27, 2008
Addis Red Sea, South End
The most recent cuisine to enter into my all time favorites is that of Ethiopia in Eastern Africa. Several summers ago my best friend and I decided to try as many new and exotic restaurants in Chicagoland as we could within a single summer, and ever since going out for Ethiopian has become a regular thing for us. Familiar with a few Ethiopian establishments back home in Chicago, I was excited when I saw that the South End was home to Addis Red Sea.
Walking down into the quasi-subterranean restaurant you immediately are struck by the decor and earthy glow of the place. A variety of paintings of Ethiopia and her people fill the walls and a colorful patterned carpeting extends throughout. The chairs are all wooden, seemingly hand-crafted, and all center around a mesob, which serves as a table in Ethiopian tradition. They are typically hand-woven from straw, dyed, and covered with a top that is removed when it is time to eat. Those unaccustomed to Ethiopian cuisine might want to know one thing in particular about going out for Ethiopian beforehand so as not to feel totally bewildered - you eat with your hands. The entire meal is presented upon a large portion of injera, a sourdough-tasting porous flatbred made from a grass grain indigenous to Ethiopia. Everyone's dish is subsequently spread out upon the bread. Diners are supposed to rip off pieces of additional injera provided to grab their food - the porous nature of it is especially helpful in mopping up delicious sauces!
In terms of appetizers, nothing I have had there has been truly spectacular, but if you're hungry I definitely wouldn't steer you clear of them. The Ye-Awaze Dabo - "thick Ethiopian bread with a dip of red pepper sauce" and "spiced with ginger root and berbere" is very flavorful, but given all the bread consumed during the main meal I wouldn't go out of my way to advise having more bread as your appetizer. The sambusas (similar to Indian samosas), with both a meat-eater and vegetarian option, are tasty and are a less-bready alternative.
For a first-timer I would very much recommend the Addis Red Sea Special Combo for two. With is you get to try Doro Wot (chicken marinated in lemon sautéed with butter and stewed in a red pepper sauce) Doro Alcha (chicken simmered in a mild sauce of butter, ginger and onions) Lega Tibs (lamb chunks sautéed in oil seasoned with onions, green peppers, rosemary and black pepper) Zenge (Exotic Beef Stew), House Salad (basically seasoned tomatoes and onions) and Gomen Wot (Chopped collard greens cooked in herbed oil with onions, green pepper and garlic). I literally love each and every one of these dishes, so in my opinion you can't go wrong!
If you're into steak tartare and like a bite to your food, definitely go for the kitfo, Ethiopian style steak tartar seasoned with herbed butter sauce and hot chili powder (mitmita). To accompany your meal I highly recommend the Ethiopian Pilsner Harar - the honey-like finish is perfect to balance all the spices in your dish. If wine is more your style, Addis has a number of Ethiopian honey wines, also with that great honey flavor.
While not my all-time favorite Ethiopian restaurant, Addis Red Sea does a great job introducing Boston and the South End to the rich cuisine of Ethiopia. If you're going on a date with someone that loves to try something different, why not try this? Try to be seated upstairs, though, since the atmosphere downstairs is entirely different and more modern, resulting in a loss of some of the restaurant's charm.
*First photo courtesy of Addisredsea.com