We flew in on a Saturday and just wanted a simple inexpensive meal. The cool weather and light rain made soup inviting. So after taking the wrong freeway exit and driving around a bit, we arrived at Pho Oregon:
In a previous life, it had probably been a large Chinese restaurant and still had a lot of space and tables:
Tina suggested that we start with Tau hu ky:
It was really good. Crunchy fried tofu skin, mild dipping sauce, and seafoody interior:
And we both liked our soups. I had Pho Dac Biet:
The broth was mildly beefy, slightly sweet, and pleasant. But not great. The noodles, however, were plentiful and not all clumped up, and the meats were quite good:
The rare steak was flavorful, the fatty brisket and flank fall apart tender and rich, the soft chewy tendon abundant, and the meatballs nicely seasoned and not rubbery. Just a tiny amount of tripe, but I couldn't complain.
Tina is fond of Hu Tieu Dac Biet, here served with a pleasant light and porky broth and plenty of perfect noodles:
While the shrimp were slightly overcooked, the fish balls were very tasty. I don't recall the pork liver (Tina wolfed it down), but the sliced pork was chewy and dry.
What made both of the soups even better were the abundant herbs and vegetables: Look at all of the sawtooth and cilantro. Jalapeño and basil hiding somewhere on the plate but not in the picture.
So a week later, on another rainy evening, we returned. First, Banh Xeo – which certainly looked good flanked by all those herbs:
Opened up, however, not as impressive:
Yeh, plenty of bean sprouts, but few shrimp and they were sliced in half lengthwise. The two half slices of pork chewy and flavorless. Not great.
Tina decided to play safe and have the Pho Dac Biet. It was as good as previously. I decided to test the kitchen by ordering Bun Mam:
The bowl looked pretty good, but it lacked the strong pungent fragrance of good Bun Mam. I could imagine Kirk taking one whiff, looking sad, and shaking his head. The broth tasted mostly of fish sauce, somewhat thin and slightly acrid, and there was no shrimp paste among the condiments to funkify it.
On the positive side, look at the abundant rau thom; that's a huge portion of herbs and vegetables, all fresh and tasty:
And the soup was packed with good noodles, vegetables, and proteins. Everything, except for the pork, was really first rate. The shrimp were not overcooked, the catfish had no hint of muddiness and tasted especially fresh, and the eggplant couldn't have been better. All stirred together, the Bun Mam looked like this:
Many years ago, a freeway ran along the western bank of the Willamette River in Portland. Unbelievably, they tore down that freeway and replaced it with a long green park that stretches for over a mile, separating and uniting downtown Portland and the river:
Called the Governor Tom McCall Waterfront Park to honor the visionary environmentalist who helped convert the Willamette from polluted sewer into the beautiful river that it is today (picture looking upstream from Willamette Falls):
McCall Park is a great place for sitting on benches, walking around,
or racing Segways:
Speaking of segues, at the north end of the park, adjacent to the Burnside Bridge,
on Saturdays (and Sundays too) for most of the year, you can find the Saturday Market:
and all sorts of handcrafts and art. For some reason or another I didn't photograph any of the beautiful and interesting artworks, but I did take some pictures of a few locally made T-shirts. Some of the shirts have typical funny slogans,
others are unique to Portland,
and some are perfect for a foodblog:
All this looking around and walking made us hungry, so we went to the food court area:
Numerous choices of all kinds of cuisines, but the Beirut Catering booth seemed to be doing a good business, and Tina and I were in the mood:
I ordered a shawarma and Tina the falafel sandwich. The pita bread for each of the sandwiches was warmed separately on a flat top:
The shawarma showed up first:
It was really good. The lamb had some gamy flavor, a bit of char, and just enough tenderness.
As we were tasting it, the man (it was a one-man show) scooped out two greenish balls of chickpea mush, and dropped them into bubbling hot oil:
When the falafel sandwich showed up, it looked magnificent:
And it tasted great. The exterior was dark and crunchy, the interior nicely balanced between smooth and coarse. The pita, falafel, tahini, tabouli, and veggies made memorable food music together. Outstanding!
We found a table nearby, sat down, had some conversations with other folks (people still talk to strangers in Portland), and watched the procession of beautiful well-trained dogs that strolled through and alongside the market. It was like a dog show. Of course, Tina and I forgot to take any pictures of the dogs. So, to make up for that, here is a picture of a local out walking his goat:
My first experience of Ethiopian food took place well over 30 years ago in Portland at Jarra’s, which I believe was the first Ethiopian restaurant in the area. All I remember was a warm and gracious owner/manager/waiter who served us a fall apart tender and fiery hot lamb shank. OMG good.
Anyway, Tina and I were in the mood for Ethiopian, and our friend Joanie told us that her family has been enjoying the Queen of Sheba for years. As you can see, the restaurant is in the fuzzy part of Portland:
The menu offered a page of vegetarian choices,
and a page of meat options:
I really wish that we had been able to visit this restaurant several times and try some entrées that I don't recall seeing in San Diego Ethiopian restaurants, like fish stew, chickpea cracker stew, lentils and okra, etc.
Especially interesting to us were the numerous mushroom options, so we ordered chicken and mushrooms in the milder alicha sauce and a combination of vegetarian sides.
As expected, the meal arrived covering a large thin injera pancake, which had a pleasant touch of sour tang.
We loved the chicken and mushrooms; a nice balance of textures, and the sauce was complex and interesting, giving the mushrooms, which soaked it up, an extra boost of flavor:
The yellow split peas were earthy and creamy:
The mustard greens, perfectly stewed, had a slight vegetal bitterness:
The golden brown shiro was a little soupy, but otherwise smooth and tasty.
The rather ordinary looking combination vegetables were well seasoned and presented a combination of textures and colors:
And the ordinary lettuce salad was fresh and lightly dressed
We left the Queen of Sheba full and happy, wishing we could return.
So I guess that's just one more reason why Tina and I have to get back to Oregon again (and again?).
I usually don't do these end of year round-up type of posts....well, because we've usually done quite a bit during the year, and yes, it can be quite a bit of work. This year however, FOY (friend of yoso) Candice asked me to contribute something for end of the year round-up. This in turn made me take a look back.
I did come to the conclusion that I really didn't have a "best" meal, but several memorable experiences....and that's kind of what it's about for me. It can be the simplest of things, a great bowl of noodle soup, at just the right moment. It could be doing something new and different, or trying something new and different.
Eating something different, tasting something you haven't tried before, having a dish be your window into a different culture, place, or time.....that to me is priceless.
Or like dealing with Mr Piggy above, you have to overcome things in your attempt to succeed. In the end, it wasn't about the destination, but the journey....and of course proving to my friends that I'm willing to spontaneously com-bust for some pork.
The setting can be a backyard, graciously donated by a friend's mom, knowing that the potential exists of being totally decimated by flaming pork. Or something as wonderful as a stand by the roadside, grill smoking, pelts of sheep slaughtered that day proudly hanging, a sign of freshness and of popularity.....who needs 10,000,000 served? We've slaughtered and grilled three whole sheep today and have sold out!
I'm still thinking that once one of those television travel/dining personalities bites into the tender olive wood grilled lamb from these stands in Tunisia, it's going to blow up.
Well, maybe not......
It's also about learning things....like the "other white meat" seems like filet mignon compared to "dromidaire".
Anyway, I did have a couple of very memorable meals during the past year........
But strangely, I haven't posted on any of them yet!!!
Two of them are from our long trip this year.
We enjoyed the first meal at Le Golfe in La Marsa, a suburb of Tunis, that we returned the next day!
In between beach side homes on the Mediterranean, you couldn't beat the scenery.
Except for maybe the food!
Like th seches grille - baby cuttlefish grilled over olive wood.
Or freshly caught Mediterranean Bluefin Tuna Carpaccio!
We also finally found our favorite little restaurant in Istanbul.......we ate there three times! We escaped the clutches of Kumkapi and found this place.....
On our first visit, all the customers were men.....everyone was a regular it seems.
Items were served in the style of meyhanes.....giant trays of mezes brought forth and you selected. You could still order off the menu too. I saw something that every table had and decided we needed it too. The Missus was a bit apprehensive....but after one taste was sold. One of our new "desert island dishes" Çiğ köfte.
It's raw ground lamb mixed with bulghur and herbs....you wrap it in lettuce with a couple of mint leaves.....oh man!
The third occurred at the end of the year, when I finally managed to get into one of the more enigmatic sushi shops in San Diego. If you know your sushi here in San Diego, you know of this place.
It's not quite like what most folks think.
I'll get to these three posts in the New Year I'm sure!
The fourth meal has a special place in my heart. In September of this past year, Candice and I received emails inviting us to dinner in remembrance of Naomi Wise, who sadly, and suddenly passed away on December 15, 2011. Though I had only met her once, she did have an unforgettable effect on me.
I did have some reservations about attending because I'd never really been a part of her "posse" and didn't want to intrude on such an intimate moment. But I also knew that Sang ("Sam"), who really worked hard to put together this dinner, was such a warm and friendly individual. When I attended it became clear; this was a small intimate dinner of folks who have been touched by Naomi Wise, whether in person, or through her years of writing the dining column for the Reader.
The meal was an excellent, unpretentious, but well put together family style meal at AR Valentien. Chef Kara Snyder did a great job.
There was one particular moment during that evening that I recall clearly. We were eating on the balcony and the fog had moved in. We were seated as the first course started to arrive. Distracted by the menu card, a drop of condensation hit me, getting my attention, in the background the "Hawaiian Lullabye" by the Brother Cazimero started playing.... at A R Valentien!
"Where I live there are rainbows With life in laughter of morning And starry nights Where I live there are rainbows With flowers full of color And birds filled with song I can smile when it's raining Touch the warmth of the sun I hear children laughing In this place that I love"
It was a wonderful evening of conversation and memories! It was great meeting all the folks who attended, some of them members of Naomi's posse:
The Lynnester Scottish Sue Sheila Sam Cheryl Robin "pre-Raphaelite" Jennifer Teresa
And the other folks who I got to meet:
Ed Lisa Katy Mary Marcie Greg Marcie Greg (yes, two Gregs and Marcies!)
And of course my buddy Candice.
Sang, I don't know if you read our blog, but I'd just like to say thanks! I was honored to be invited.....you did such a great job!
So I guess that's it, this year is wrapped up. See you next year..........
We've been enjoying our meals at Awash Market and Restaurant, the Missus really enjoys the injera here, it's not too sour, and not too thick. The place runs kind of on the slow side but the folks are really nice. The restaurant, which is in the rear of the market has sort of a "speak-easy" feel to it.
We've learned to do as the customers do, go to the restroom and wash your hands before your meal; after all you'll be making use of the "most basic eating implement" and using them to eat. So after having several nice meals, we decided to really go all in and try two dishes we'd been wondering about for a while....kitfo, which I've had before and tire siga, which I had not.
If you're into raw food, you'll probably love it.
The kitfo was delicious, we ordered the Kitfo Special, which is hand chopped and served with collard greens and cheese. We asked for it to be almost raw, so that the butter poured over it would not make it lukewarm, as I somehow find warm almost raw meat a bit uncomfortable I guess.
Even though it's slightly heated, I loved the coolness of the dish. There was just enough butter to add a creaminess to the dish without disturbing the flavor of the mitmita, the spicy powder made of chili pepper, mustard seed, and salt. Think of it as a spicy beef tartar if you will, wrapped in some injera, perhaps with a touch of cheese which strangely seemed to add sweetness to the dish.
If you enjoy the kitfo, perhaps you'll try the tire siga, a real delicacy. It's very basic.....cubed raw beef.
You can get the meat fatty or lean, since the Missus would actually be eating some beef, we went lean. It's very easy to eat, you wrap the meat cubes in injera, then dip into mimita or awaze, a nasal clearing berbere (chili based spice) paste and have at it. The meat is good quality and fresh, there's no metallic flavors or disturbing aftertastes, and I expected none, since the clientele seems quite particular about the food. If you want, they'll sear off the meat for you and you can have it "blue". This was quite a bit of meat and eating it got tedious after a while....I think I'll stick with the kitfo, though it's always great to expand ones horizons.
Oh, and if you're not into this stuff, there's quite a few items we enjoy on the menu as well......
We really like the injera they make here, it not too sour or heavy. They seem to sell a ton of it in the market.
It's a real small operation, so things might take a while, but they seem to prepare the food with some care. They are also very nice and the guys up front will always take time to explain things to you. You end up paying up front at the cashier, who always seems to have some tidbit about the food for us. Tonight we were told that kitfo and tire siga became popular during the second world war. The Ethiopians were battling the Italians and had to eat "under cover", that is, without creating a fire to give away their position. Thus they acquired a taste for seasoned raw meat...hence kitfo and tire siga. Not quite sure about the story, but it was fun hearing it!
Awash Market and Restaurant 2884 El Cajon Blvd San Diego, CA 92104 Hours: Mon 830 am - midnight Tue-Sun 830 am - 1am
It's always great to expand your horizons and try something new....what have you tried for the first time recently?
We were kind of wondering where "the restaurant" part was of Awash Market and Restaurant during a recent visit. I looked up toward the back of the market and saw the doorway. We decided to return a couple of days later to try out the food.
The dining area is bright red, quite clean, and on one of our visits, pretty darn quiet.
On our first visit however, the place was hopping. It was the European Soccer Championships and there all the tables except one was full of guys watching the game....lot's of laughter and good natured ribbing going on. Even though the conversations weren't in English, there are things that are universal.
The conversations that we couldn't understand made us feel like we were on holiday again, which was strangely comforting to us.
The guys working here are very friendly and once they saw us, menus were delivered to our table. All dishes are described quite well.
Not really knowing what the specialty here was, we both decided to order combinations plates which are $9.99. I went with the meat combo.
Though there were some similarities in the look of the various stews, each had it's own distinct flavor. The two lamb dishes were our favorites...the lamb flavor came through quite well.
Of course injera, the yeasty-spongy bread made of teff flour, made inhouse, was provided in fairly large quantities. It was quite interesting for me to watch the Missus as She's never really taken to injera, which I jokingly call "carpet padding". To my surprise She loves the version here, which I think is a bit less sour and a bit firmer in texture than others we've had. I also think the Missus's tastes have expanded.......
She did enjoy Her vegetarian combination.
She particularly loved the red lentil and stewed kale and pretty much finished everything off.
Meanwhile, I found my plate to be quite filling and had enough for another meal. Needless to say, we returned a couple of weeks later. The missus again went with the vegetarian combination, but I decided on the item I enjoyed the most the last time, Yebeg Siga Wot ($9.99), basically lamb stewed in berbere, the classic Ethiopian spice mix.
The lamb was nice and gamey, the spices came through nicely but didn't take over the dish, and heat level wasn't very high overall. It was a rather heavy dish. I managed to put away only about a third of it. When we asked the young man walking through for a box, he looked at me and said, "but you haven't eaten!" The leftovers, including the injera was enough for two more meals.
I ended my meal with a nice cup of espresso...the beans are roasted in the shop, you can see it at the front counter.
The drill for eating here is simple....you have a seat in the dining room, I just go ahead and grab our menus when we arrive. One of the guys working there will see you and take your order. When you're done, you go up front to pay...... Funny thing, it's almost like we're on the honor system. You tell the cashier what you had and they ring it up. If you need more injera, they do a brisk business of selling that stuff in the market as well.
The Missus enjoys this place the most of the Ethiopian Restaurant's we've been to in San Diego; Awash, Asmara, Harar, Bayu's, and Red Sea, so I think we'll be going back again soon. There are two types of Kitfo on the menu, and I'm interested in trying them out.
Awash Market and Restaurant 2884 El Cajon Blvd San Diego, CA 92104 Hours: Mon 830 am - midnight Tue-Sun 830 am - 1am
This is mostly Kirk's foodblog. Sometimes Cathy blogs here too. Today's blog is by ed (from Yuma).
I was in SD on my own because Tina was stuck in Yuma working and taking care of our new, irresistibly cute rescue dog Chloe:
My plans were up in the air - so many enticing dining options that my mental palate couldn't decide.
Then right there on University just before I was going to turn left to get on the 163 going north, I spotted an Ethiopian restaurant, Bayu's:
So a decision happened. I remember my first Ethiopian restaurant about 30 years ago in Portland, Oregon. The exuberant and friendly owner told stories about diving for cover during World War II when the Italian fighter planes strafed his home village. He made it seem like a child's game. Between his stories and the food, it was a totally different restaurant experience.
And the food – the sourish gray pancake covered with a lamb shank stewed almost to disintegration in a dark and fiery sauce full of spices and flavors I had never encountered before. My mouth burned in a really good way.
In any case, I am still a sucker for Ethiopian food even though most other Ethiopian restaurants don't live up to my original memory (memory is like that sometimes).
Bayu's is a very clean and attractive space with tasteful decorations and pleasant Ethiopian music playing in the background:
Upon entering, I was greeted by a friendly and pleasant hostess who would also be my server. While I quickly located a sampler platter on the menu, it was interesting to watch and listen as she explained the cuisine to some newbies – trying to be as accommodating to their requests and desires as possible.
I ordered the giant combination, called Taste of Bayu's. At $26.50, it was certainly the most expensive item I've ever ordered at an Ethiopian restaurant. What's more, the meal would be gigantic, more than I could possibly eat, but I could sample a range of this restaurant's dishes.
I also tried a bottle of Ethiopian beer, which the helpful young woman explained went well with Ethiopian food:
She was right. Although the beer by itself tasted rather sweet and bland, it paired nicely with the cuisine.
Before I describe the meal in more detail, I should explain about injera:
This is the national bread of Ethiopia. Is a fermented flatbread made from a grain called teff. This grassseed is gluten free so the bread does not rise. When the dough is placed on the flat grill, it bubbles like a pancake. Unlike a pancake, is not flipped over, so one side is flat and smooth and the other is like a sponge. The meal came with this basket full of cool injera rolled into cylinders (I have no idea why injera is never served heated).
But injera is not just a bread, not just a starch; it is also the main utensil. When eating Ethiopian food, you tear off a piece of injera and use it to scoop up your food and place it in your mouth. In addition, Ethiopian meals are presented on large round discs of injera. The bread then is knife, fork, and plate.
My order of Taste of Bayu's came to the table looking like this:
The meat dishes were on the left and center - the vegetarian dishes around the right side.
Best way to describe the meal is to proceed clockwise with additional pictures when they are helpful. Starting at 12 clock, we have misir wat, spicy lentil stew. I grew up eating lentils and almost never dislike a lentil dish. Here the flavorful pulse was enhanced by Ethiopian spices including ground dried chilies, giving the dish a nice moderate heat level.
Right next to the lentils was atakill, curried split peas. The pair of legumes presented a definite contrast in look and color:
The contrast went deeper. The peas had a chewier texture and a robust and earthy flavor profile – with just a light kiss of curry spices.
The next item, atakik alech, was probably my least favorite of the night. Nothing wrong with it, but the potato/carrot/cabbage combo was plain and ordinary. Of course, if you like those basic flavors, you would think of this is a natural and straightforward presentation:
The three items between four o'clock and six o'clock are usually served together as special kitfo, and they did make a nice group of flavors, textures, and tastes:
The meat was finely chopped beef cooked in butter. Its flavor was very meaty, though there was a touch of greasiness left on my tongue. On its right is ayib, translated Ethiopian cottage cheese on the menu. But in some ways it reminded me more of a cotija or perhaps a feta, drier and saltier than most conventional American cottage cheeses. The greens, gomen, are chopped and stewed collards. Minimally spiced, they were nicely prepared – not overcooked at all. The flavor of the collards spoke spoke to me without an interpreter. While each of these three items was uniquely itself, they complemented each other well. One intensely meaty, one simply cheesy, and one greenly vegetal. I understand why they are often served together.
The next item – to the left of the kitfo – was one of my favorites that evening. Called sega tibs, it is a complexly spiced rich beef stew, each chunk still having some chew and a lot of beef flavors. It deserves a close-up:
The next two items were sega wat (spicy beef stew) and yebeg alecha (mild lamb stew). In contrast with the tibs, both of these meats were cooked to a soft stewed texture.
The central item on the plate was doro wat or spicy stewed chicken with boiled egg:
This centerpiece was a little disappointing to me. There seem to be as much boiled egg as chicken. And the sauce, while flavorful, wasn't as intense or as fiery as I have had other places. To be fair, one poster at Yelp complained that the chicken stew was inedibly hot, so maybe Bayu's has toned things down a bit since then.
For me, the tomato salad sort of thing at the top of the platter was extremely successful:
While some sort of salad is usually included in Ethiopian combination plates, those salads are often bland combinations of chopped lettuce and tomato. Here, however, the diced onions and tomato had been tossed with some sort of vinegar, making the salad an excellent and tangy palate cleanser. I loved it.
One great thing about Ethiopian food is that the injera on which the dishes are served soaks up sauces and juices throughout the meal:
While you can use pieces of the separate rolled injera to pick up morsels of meat and vegetables, I prefer to use the injera on which the items are served. While that is certainly the messier option, it is also the juicier option. And I am not embarrassed to lick my fingers, particularly when they taste this good.
Overall, my experience at Bayu's was a positive one. I would happily return. The atmosphere and service were excellent. While it would have been nice to have some berbere paste available on the platter or on the side to add fire, the spicing was generally satisfactory and complex. It would also be interesting to try some of the dishes that are not on the combination plate, like creamy tasting shiro (ground peas), a different lamb dish (spicy stew or lamb tibs) or even gored gored, a raw beef dish. Because of the friendly and helpful service, Bayu's would also be a good restaurant for folks unfamiliar with Ethiopian cuisine.
Bayu's Authentic Ethiopian, 530 University Avenue, San Diego, CA 92103, (619) 546-0540.
So I'm having a nice chat with a friend of mine....and we're discussing our favorite sport....eating! And as I went over what I ate over the last couple of weeks, he comments "you sure do eat a lot of raw meat." Which caught me off guard. But he was right; as I went through what we talked about...there sure was a good amount of raw meat involved. I came home and went through my photos...and sure enough, he was right. So I thought what the heck, this'll make as good a post as anything.......
Olivetto Cafe and Wine Bar:
Recently, the Missus has become one of those "ladies who does lunch." And has been grabbing lunch at various places with Her friends. One of the favorites of the "ladies who do lunch" is the new Olivetto Cafe and Wine Bar. "The Girls" have eaten there at least 5 times, mostly because of convenience, service, and the place is usually empty, so a 2 to 3 hour lunch is not out of the question.
During one recent lunch hour, the Missus and I managed to meet up for an now all too rare lunch. The Missus went over what She thought was the restaurants strong points......appetizers(except the cheese & salumi plate). She has been less than satisfied with the burger, pastas, etc..... So now She and the Girls just do appetizers.
So that's what we did. And to start off the "raw" theme, I ordered the Carpaccio($8.95):
The paper thin beef tenderloin was okay, as was the olive oil, nothing special. The Missus loves parmigianno-regiano, and this was nice a milky. So much for Chinese hating the "congealed - curdled milk of an old cow's udder". We both enjoy Arugula, and this was a fine middle of the road version of the dish.
What I really came for were the Truffle Parmesan Fries ($4.95):
The Missus told me that Her friend 'K', had raved about these, repeating over and over to the Missus, "can't you smell the truffle oil". To which the Missus replied, "it smells good, but I don't know what truffle oil smells like!" I loved the appearance of the thin, almost shoestring fries. The last several times I've had truffle fries, they've been oily, heavy, and went soggy quickly. These were the polar opposite, and the Parmesan added a nice saltiness to the dish. As for the truffle oil, this dish had an almost buttery smell, and I felt like I could make out 2,4-Dithiapentane. The fries were rich and filling, and even though I've rarely met a fry I didn't finish, I couldn't finish these.
We also had the Bruschetta Del Giorno ($5.50), the Bruschetta of the day.
Nice, ripe tomatoes bursting with flavor, basil, Parmesan...all would have been working in nice harmony if the bread had not been incinerated.
The service at Olivetto was very relaxed, friendly without being intrusive(according to the Missus this is not always the case), and our waters and drinks were refilled throughout. I'm glad the Missus has a nice, relaxing, and not the least bit stuffy place to grab a nice lunch with Her friends.
Olivetto Cafe and Wine Bar 860 West Washington Street San Diego, CA 92103
Next stop on the mmm-yoso "raw tour", Sab-E-Lee, and one of my current favorite dishes; Koi Soi (Spicy Raw Beef - $6.95). Like I mentioned before, I've had this dish at two other places, one was very good (though not as good as this), and the other was very difficult for me to eat. This on the other hand is very easy for me to eat.
Yes, in spite of the heat from the chilies, this is one dish that I find hard to stop eating. A pinch of the salad in cabbage in one hand. A ball of sticky rice in the other. Once you start you dare not lose momentum.
The Missus would not eat this at first, sticking with one of the two other beef salads on the menu. But once She tried it, She was hooked. Good stuff.....
Sab-E-Lee Restaurant 2405 Ulric St San Diego, CA 92111
It is an actual item on the menu at Asmara. Spaghetti is not very high on the list of items I'd like to try at an Eritrean Restaurant, though please tell me if you've tried it, and like it.
While the Missus went for the sampler:
I went for this:
It's called Kitfo, and is the Ethiopian/Eritrean version of steak tartar; finely chopped (not ground) raw beef, flavored with niter kibbeh (a herb infused clarified butter), mitmita (a spicy powder seasoning), and herbs. It is served with the ubiquitous, carpet-padding-look-alike-eating utensil(you use pieces of it as your eating implement - don't ask for a spoon), the sour and spongy flatbread Injera.
This version was not as sour as others, and along with what was used to line the plate, we each received another plate with several "rolls" of injera.
Less you think this is a light dish, it is rich, and the injera is heavy, and we both got really full, really quickly. The portion size is more than sufficient, the spiciness of the mitmita is not too bad either .
Emboldened by Her experiences with the Koi Soi, the Missus dug right in, and was stopped dead in Her tracks. She found eating a raw beef dish that is slightly North of warm (from the clarified butter I assume), and the very strong flavor of the herbs to be disconcerting. This dish stayed with me for a loooong time, as did the aftertaste of the cardamom and fenulgreek. I could still taste it the next morning.
If you've never had this type of food before, Asmara is a great place to start. The restaurant is very clean, and the folks who work here are friendly. I think the gentleman who served us was a bit taken aback when I ordered, but I told Him I've had Kitfo before at a restaurant on Fairfax in Los Angeles, and he was good to go.
Asmara Eritrean Restaurant 4155 University Ave San Diego, CA 92114
I've posted on Yookwe (Yuk Hwe) from Buga before. I've never gotten a clean shot off, since the ladies always insist on mixing it for when they bring it to my table. I understand that an unmistakable pile of raw meat, topped with a raw egg can be disturbing. But when it's good, it's quite good. Unfortunately, the last 2 times, the meat has tasted a bit off, so I think I'll pass on this dish from now on. Too bad, Buga is about the only place in San Diego that I trust enough to even order this.
Buga Korean BBQ Restaurant 5580 Clairemont Mesa Blvd. San Diego, CA 92117
So there you have it...mmm-yoso, like you've never seen it before; from mild to wild, in the raw.......he-he-he.....
Kirk will soon be back posting about his incredible trip to Vietnam & Cambodia. Cathy will soon post more about her culinary adventures. Other folks help out on this blog as well. Today, though, it is ed (from Yuma) writing about a new restaurant he just visited in San Diego.
When I lived in San Diego about 10 years ago, I delighted in the vibrant Ethiopian/East African community in the city. While my previous exposure to their cuisine had been limited, I loved Ethiopian food. Unfortunately, the Ethiopian restaurant scene in America's Finest City left much to be desired.
My favorite Ethiopian restaurant (called Asmara) closed. Another place that served good food had virtually no customers, perhaps because no one would have expected a restaurant called Legare to be an Ethiopian restaurant; the warm and friendly owner explained that everyone in Addis Ababa knew that the best restaurant food was at the train station, which being built by the French, was called Le Gare. But for those of us not from Addis Ababa . . .
So I approached Asmara (no connection to its deceased namesake) with a certain level of trepidation. First of all, it calls itself an Eritrean restaurant, not Ethiopian. Eritrean cuisine? I know that Ethiopia and Eritrea have been joined and separated and warring and at peace at various times in my lifetime. So how would this food relate to Ethiopian cuisine? What's more, the restaurant is so new that workers were painting over the name of the previous occupant on the awning above the main entrance as we were entering:
But when I walked in, I was able to leave my trepidation at the door. This was clearly a professional operation. There was no thick cloud of incense smoke or tables of men playing cards in darkened rooms oblivious to their surroundings. Instead, everything about the decor of the sizable restaurant said clean, modern, stylish, and professional:
Before we go any further, let me apologize for the lack of great food pictures. My old buddy Greg and I were on a guy's eating trip to San Diego, and we were fortunate to get together with Dave and Michelle, friends from Jamul, who enjoy gourmandizing as much as Greg and I do. So when two large trays of various dishes arranged on sheets of injera arrived, it was hard to keep everyone from attacking the food while I was hurriedly taking pictures. (Remember this important life lesson: always blame others for your deficiencies.)
We had ordered a meat combination, a chicken dish (called here tsebhi dorho - but identical to the douro wat in Ethiopian restaurants), a veggie combo, and shiro, a dish of roasted ground chickpeas with seasonings. Thoughtfully, they put all the vegetarian items on one tray and all of the meat dishes (with accompanying salads) on another, so that any vegetarian would be spared morsels of injera lubricated with meat sauce or juices. This picture of part of the meat platter gives you an idea of how the food is served:
We were all very impressed with the injera, the bubbly sourdough flatbread full of tef flour and flavor. It had a pronounced sour tang and seemed a little thinner and less doughy than other versions I have eaten. For those of you unfamiliar with Horn of Africa cuisine, the injera is the starch, the plate, and the eating utensil. One picks up bits and bites of various foods with pieces of injera held between the fingers. In addition to the injera that covered the platters, more injera wrapped up around itself was also served on the side. However, as everyone who has eaten Ethiopian or Eritrean food is aware, the best tasting injera is that which has lain under the entrees and soaked up all their essential goodness.
Even though the meat combo was supposed to have only two different items, we received a chunky cubed beef and a similar lamb item as well as a longer cooked, falling-apart-tender lamb stew. The two cubed meat dishes looked like this (but clearer):
All the meat items were tasty and richly seasoned, but the fiery chicken dish may have been the star of the meat platter, even though it contained only one chicken leg and one boiled egg (sort of a mother and child reunion):
Similarly, we got more than expected with the veggie combination, which had two different lentil dishes (one darker and more highly spiced than the other), a cabbage and carrot dish, a collard and spinach dish, and a surprise yellow split pea stew, something not even listed on the menu. Except for the one lentil dish, the spicing on all the vegetarian items tended to be more subtle. Please do not click to enlarge any of these fuzzy pictures; they won't get any better -- they will only get bigger:
The most impressive of the items on the vegetarian platter was the Shiro, which came in a covered bowl so we could continue to add more on top of the injera. It had layers of complexities. The nuttiness of the roasted chickpeas and the Ethiopian Eritrean spices contributed to the overall taste. I had been somewhat hesitant to order this item, but it was really good (if not really pretty):
Not counting the cost of the Eritrean and Ethiopian beers that we ordered (my advice: order more conventional beers) the cost of the dinner was about $10 a person. None of the entrées is over $10. I felt that the dinner was a very good value, particularly considering the pleasant setting.
Is this a great restaurant? Well, I don't know. We didn't try either of the beef dishes which can be ordered raw (gored-gored and kitfo). However, everything we were served was well prepared and well seasoned. Only the rather ordinary and underdressed salads (containing fresh jalapeno slices to get one's attention) were disappointing. I can't recall ever having better East African food in San Diego. This would certainly be a great place for someone who had never tried Horn of Africa cuisine before. On the other hand, the menu at Asmara doesn't appear to break new ground, and most items listed seem similar to those at most conventional Ethiopian restaurants, except that some have different names.
Perhaps the most unusual thing on the menu is the weekend special, spaghetti with your choice of meat or tomato sauce. This pasta is a reminder that Eritrea spent many years as an Italian colony. In Ethiopia, on the other hand, the Italians were hated invaders whose brief rule had little effect on that nation's cuisine.
Asmara Eritrean Restaurant, 4155 University Ave, (619) 677-3999. Open daily 11 AM - 10 PM.