Living in Washington DC area has a great perk – an incredible variety of ethnic restaurants from far-flung regions of the world within reach of any resident. One cuisine that has thrived in this metropolis is Ethiopian which first made its presence known in the Adams Morgan restaurant row in the late 80’s not long after its community had grown to a rather sizable number. Since then, many eateries have burgeoned in areas where previously were neglected and dilapidated. Such area was the U St. NW where in the 90’s crack houses were abound interspersed by bordered-up store fronts and the occasional liquor store. But where there is disaster, there is opportunity. Many Ethiopian restaurants have popped-up around the intersection of 9th and U St. NW, and walking down this rather quiet neighborhood, one notices North Africans hanging out on the street and hears the exotic tones from their tongues. This is where I encountered Etete, one of the several Ethiopian eateries on the same block.
Entering in the establishment, the eating area looked rather cramped with a bar and a few tables on the first floor. There were only a few customers seated which surprised me for a Saturday night. However, my BFF and I were asked to go upstairs which was filled with diners and the din produced by the hungry mouths. We were placed next to the stairs in a rather tight area since every table on this level was already taken. Having had quite a few experiences with this type of food, I knew what to expect. The basis of the whole meal is a common large platter covered with the exotic tasting sourdough bulgur wheat pancake, Enjera, and topped with different dishes. Pieces of the bread are torn off and used as the eating utensil to scoop up the different dishes dotting this plain canvas. For many Americans, eating this delicate pancake dough with the soft textured food poses a textural issue to most uninitiated to it, but my bestie was up to such challenge and is a fan of the cuisine.
. The first layer to go on the platter was the Special Vegetarian Combination. The large plate arrived with a myriad of vegetable dishes on the periphery of the sourdough pancake. Gomen is collard greens cooked with onion, green pepper, garlic and ginger; Tekil Gomen is cabbage and carrot cooked with onion, garlic and jalapeño pepper; Yekik Alicha is a delicately spiced cooked split pea dip served cold; Yemisir Kik Wat is red split lentils cooked with onions and herbs, spiced with the fiery Ethiopian red pepper Berbere sauce; Yeataklit Wat is carrot, potato, and onion sauteed with garlic, ginger, and tomato sauce; and a salad consisting of raw tomato, onion, and jalapeño pepper. I enjoyed the different flavors, textures, and temperatures in each vegetable dish, all exuding their unique flavors from the simple yet tasteful to the more complex tasting ones. The fresh tasting Enjera was light and spongy with a slight sour hint as a result of the dough fermentation before being cooked, and it was the perfect blank canvas to absorb all the different flavors from the various sauces and dips. The only ho-hum moment was the raw tomato salad with its not-so-ripe/-sweet chunks that was indicative of the unseasonality of this fruit vegetable. A slight up-charge is added for the similar combination but with the addition of a fried fish on the side, which seems to be a popular order looking around the dining room.
I would have been satisfied with the vegetable dishes, but this review would be incomplete without mentioning the meat dishes. The most recognizable and mentioned dish is Doro Wat. Chicken legs have been cooked in onion, garlic, ginger, ground hot pepper (berbere) , and spiced butter sauce, served along with hard-boiled eggs. The chicken leg was cooked tender, tasting of all the spices from the long stewing process. The sauce tasted complex with a slight sweetness to compensate for the spicy berbere in the sauce that had a slight smokey note much like smoked paprika. The heat was more complex and had more personality than just a hot pepper, which made the dish appealing and making one want more. The boiled egg was obligatory but a bit perfunctory in my opinion. Despite the tasty quality of the dish, I was disappointed that all that was served was just a drumstick and an egg, all for $16. A bit more generous portion would have made this order very satisfactory.
. The next meat order was definitely not short in quantity, which made up for the above dish’s shortcoming. Yeawaz Tibs consisted of beef tibs cooked in a ground hot pepper sauce (Awaze sauce) with onion, fresh tomato, fresh garlic, and chili. The pieces of beef were falling apart in the mouth with their quality cuts, devoid of gristle, tasting rich from all the seasoning and spices, spicy, slightly sweet from the tomato, and slightly smokey from the spicy Awaze sauce. Each bite exuded the perfect amalgamation in the cooking process that pointed to slow long cooking of the meat in that rich sauce. The pieces were right size making it easy to handle in each parcel created by the Enjera that was moistened and flavored by a sauce thicker than the above chicken dish. The portion of this order was very generous, and along with its savoriness, I began to pay attention to each beefy bite rather than the meager chicken portion. I highly recommend this dish as a must order.
Etete serves quality Ethiopian food cooked in the traditional and uncompromising way, and served in a rather contemporaneous environment. Such cooking was evident in all the various dishes especially in the vegetable combination platter and in the beef tibs dish with the proper seasoning perfect cooking in the vegetables to the deliciously spicy and tender meat pieces of the Yeawaz Tibs. I would recommend this experience to anyone, especially the novice, to try this cuisine in this uncompromising way. With such friendly and helpful service, I’m quite sure you will walk away impressed and satisfied from the wonderful dishes.