Lesaac Ethiopian Cafe

Lesaac Ethiopian Cafe - Silver Spring, MD

Ethiopian cuisine poses a few challenges on different levels.  First, there is a plethora of restaurants serving this fare due to the influx of immigrants from that East African region resulting in a boom of restaurants beginning from the 1980’s.  With so many to choose from, it has been a challenge for me to pick a place to write on.  The other issue is that Ethiopian food, especially the spongy injera bread, creates a textural challenge for most Americans who tend to steer away from this soft or mushy feel especially when eaten customarily with the bare hand.  With this said, I have problems finding enough friends to join me to partake in this type of meal.  But last weekend, I managed to corral a couple of die-hard friends for this rare treat.

Lesaac Ethiopian Cafe - Silver Spring, MD

Downtown Silver Spring, MD has taken a transformation the last few years, and it has become the hub of Ethiopian gastronomic and social life judging by the high number of such establishments dotting its square blocks.  When I noticed an online offer for Lesaac Ethiopian Cafe, I knew I couldn’t bypass such a deal especially from an establishment in that area.   Walking through its doors, you notice the strong rich colors on the walls, the photo mural on the ceiling and vibrant tile work on the wall, all decorating the booths and tables in the rather narrow shotgun space.  I was tempted to sit outside on its sidewalk patio, but with a friend suffering from seasonal allergies, we chose to go inside instead.

Lesaac Veggie Deluxe - Lesaac Cafe Lesaac Veggie Deluxe - Lesaac CafeHaving savored Ethiopian food a number of times over the years, I have got familiar with some of their regular dishes.   Cooked vegetables stand out in this cuisine, and we ordered the Lesaac Veggie Deluxe.  What arrived was a large platter layered with the sourdough injera bread topped with nine bean and vegetable dishes.  The collard greens tasted quite savory and were not too mushy but cooked well. The red beets were a novelty for me since I never encountered them in this cuisine: they were naturally sweet, tasting slightly earthy, and enriched by some butter that took them to another level.  The Yellow split peas were well-seasoned and also well-cooked, cooked to a level of doneness without being mushy.  The same level of doneness were the red lentils that were mixed with some Berbere chili paste and tasted a bit tangy, which made them interesting.  The green beans and carrot were cooked well-done without being too soft and tasted vegetal sweet and garlicky.  The salad was really tangy and salted from a vinaigrette made of citrus juice and herbal seasoning, making it a palate cleanser in between bites.  The cabbage was soft, naturally sweet and quite garlicky.  The green beans were quite mushy, slightly under seasoned and reminded me of lentils.  The middle mound of red split peas was a puree seasoned with a smokey spicy concoction.  With such variety in offerings, flavors, textures, and seasoning, my dining friends and I were in hog heaven with this dish that tasted the best that I have ever savored, and I could have been perfectly content indulging on this vegetarian platter.

Doro Wat - Lesaac CafeAnother recognized dish from my foray into this cuisine is a popular one – Doro Wat.  The bowl arrived with a heaping amount of thick sauce covering a lone piece of chicken and boiled egg.  One taste of the sauce put everything into perspective.  The customary scant piece of chicken with the lone egg always perplexed me with its small portion of protein.  But this time, I realized what this dish was really about – the sauce.  It tasted smokey and spicy from the Berbere chili powder, rich from butter, and quite sweet from a copious amount of onions.  In addition, there was a slight burn after each bite coupled by a mild tanginess from the dried peppers, which made the sauce totally irresistible and reminding me of good Mexican molé sauce.  The side of crumbled cheese was interesting since it was devoid of salt or cheese pungency, but it played a minor role of adding more richness and making the spicy sauce milder to the palate.  The side of injera bread was the perfect vehicle to mop up all the goodness, which I would have done so if weren’t for the other dishes.  Finally, I have savored a damn good version of this famous dish which has revealed its real gastronomic truth to this diner.

Ethiopian Fish Gulash - Lesaac Cafe

For my pescatarian fellow diner, we order Fish Gulash upon the waitress’ recommendation.  The large bowl arrived with pieces of fish covered by a rather thick red sauce and studded by bits of jalapeño peppers.  The bits of fish were mild tasting and a bit crispy from some frying, covered with a slightly tangy tomato-based sauce made sweet with lots of onions and spiced by the peppers.  My fellow diners raved about this dish for its fresh tasting seafood, confirmed as fresh tilapia (surprise!), and the bright tasty sauce that married well with the fish.  The side of salad was a bright mix with a tangy vinaigrette that was the perfect companion to this dish.  This was definitely a hit with us and I’m looking forward to savoring this new dish again.

Ethiopian Meat Omelet - Lesaac CafeWith some credit left on the coupon, the waitress suggested an item from the breakfast section – Meat Omelet.  The omelet arrived with some toast to complete the meal.  The egg mixture was quite savory with pieces of slightly seasoned and tasty beef, mixed with  onions, green peppers, and tomato that lent their vegetal sweetness, tanginess, and slight crunch that made each mouthful interesting and comforting.  The egg was a bit firmer than the usual French version, but it was nearly greaseless and  something that I enjoyed after having eaten egg cooked this way growing up in Asia.  This dish would be an order when I’m in the mood for some Ethiopian breakfast.

Finally, I have found an Ethiopian restaurant that I could say really justifies what this Eastern African cuisine is all about. The Veggie platter blew us away with the variety of vegetable dishes with their freshness, flavors, and cooking. The Doro Wat dish was completely revelatory for me with the secret being the sauce, and I waited all these years to savor a version that spoke volumes to me. The Fish Gulash was definitely another hit with its mild sweet fillets covered by a savory bright sauce. For breakfast, I would not hesitate ordering their Meat Omelet that was both comforting and satisfying. With food this good and definitely authentic, judging by the nearly all Ethiopian clientele (interestingly nearly all male, but a cultural norm), this is another new-find and a favorite locale for this cuisine.

Lesaac Ethiopian Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Highlights 2015

I’m posting this blog to highlight the restaurants and dishes that I enjoyed the past year. Happy New Year to everyone.

Zaytinya (read Blog)

Batijan Bin Laban - Zaytinya, D.C.

Turkish Coffee Chocolate Cake & Matisha Ice Cream - Zaytinya, D.C.

Batijan Bin Laban/Fried Eggplant
Turkish Coffee Chocolate Cake, Matisha Ice Cream

Askale Cafe (Read Blog)

Vegetarian Combination, Askale Cafe, Washington DC

Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony, Askale Cafe, Washington DC
Askale Vegetarian Combination
Ethiopian Coffee

Yuan Fu (Read Blog)

Chow San Shein

Veggie Duck with Basil & Ginger
Chow San Shein
Veggie Duck with Basil and Ginger

Toki Underground (Read Blog)

Fried Chicken Steamed Buns

Toki Classic Ramen

Fried Chicken Steamed Bun
Toki Classic Ramen

El Patio (Read Blog)

Empanada Tucumana

Grilled Ribeye Steak
Empanada Tucumana
Grilled Ribeye Steak

I Love Pho (Read Blog)

Bo Bun Hue

Crispy Noodle
Bo Bun Hue/Spicy Beef Noodle
Crispy Noodle

Myong Dong (Read Blog)

20150823_124959

20150823_124522
Be Beam Naeng Myun/Cold Buckwheat Noodles
Mandu/Korean Noodles

Thip Kao (Read Blog)

Knap Paa/Grilled Salmon Wraps

Laab E'kae/Minced Alligator Salad
Knap Paa/Grilled Salmon Wraps
Laab E’kae/Minced Alligator Salad

Thank you for following my blog in 2015.  I hope you will enjoy my new finds and postings for the new year.  Happy Eating.

Askale Cafe

Askale Cafe, Washington DCI’m rather fond of Ethiopian food, and I have had my fair share of this East African cuisine since my arrival in this city 25 years ago for Grad School. Over the years, the DC area has become a destination point for Ethiopian immigrants, and the result is no shortage of restaurants that offer their cuisine. However, I have always had a difficulty deciding which restaurant to visit to do a write-up on since nearly all offer the same dishes on the menu. But when I saw an online coupon for a fairly new establishment in the Brookland neighborhood, a most unexpected place, that performs an Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony, I knew that this was the exact place for me to review. With coupon in hand, I paid them a visit recently for this review.

The following series of photographs will describe the various stages of the Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony:

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Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony, Askale Cafe, Washington DCEthiopian Coffee Ceremony, Askale Cafe, Washington DCWalking into Askale Cafe, one is immediately enveloped by a cloud of burning incense, smelling rather strong of myrrh and reminding me of being in a Cathedral and evoking the feeling of an Ethiopian Orthodox church. Throughout the ceremony, the Mistress of Ceremony was refilling the burner with some incense powder.

 

 

 

Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony, Askale Cafe, Washington DCEthiopian Coffee Ceremony, Askale Cafe, Washington DCA earthen pot carrying burning charcoal was later brought in, a sight that I have not seen since my grandmothers were alive more than 30 years ago. Burning embers were removed and placed in the incense urn to keep the incense powder burning throughout the ceremony.  A brass plate was placed on top of the fire, topped with raw coffee beans with a sickle-like brass rake next to it. Notice the light color of the coffee beans.

 

Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony, Askale Cafe, Washington DCEthiopian Coffee Ceremony, Askale Cafe, Washington DCThe beans were raked over the hot brass plate until it is quite dark in color, but not burnt like in American or French roast. The roasting took quite a bit of time, with the MOC keeping a vigilant eye on the beans and without stopping the raking motion as it got faster as the beans became darker. Once the desired roast was achieved, the beans were removed to cool down on a jute-leaf plate. Notice the popcorn in the background which was used as a palate-cleanser later during the coffee drinking.

 

Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony, Askale Cafe, Washington DCAs part of the ceremony, all guests were invited to catch a waft of the roasted beans. The smell was beyond the immediate roasting smoke, exuding aromas of enticing roasted coffee beans with their toasted notes and creating an anticipation of its potential liquid form.

Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony, Askale Cafe, Washington DCEthiopian Coffee Ceremony, Askale Cafe, Washington DCOnce cooled, the whole beans were ground finely and poured into a jet-black earthen jar that had been set on the burning coals that had brought some water to a boil.  A wooden stop was used to keep the steam in while the ground coffee was brewing.

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Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony, Askale Cafe, Washington DCEthiopian CoffeeWhen the coffee was sufficiently brewed, it was poured into small cups, much like Chinese teacups, in a single stream without any breaks, a symbolism of the continuity of life despite its ups and downs. One sip of the brew was quite a revelation: The hot drink had a full-bodied flavor devoid of the bitterness found in stronger roasts. A certain fruitiness was evident in the rather high acid level on the tongue, pointing to the nature of the bean and the fruit around it, this further emphasized due to the lack of sugar as recommended by the MOC. After adding a bit of sugar, the sourness was more palatable. Not exactly what I expected but I knew it was going to be a different cup, and I was enjoying the whole experience of watching from bean to brew.

Vegetarian Combination, Askale Cafe, Washington DCOn to the food. We ordered the vegetarian platter listed as Ethio-Mix. From top left clockwise: Gomen – collard greens cooked with some garlic and spices that enhanced the dark-nature of this green, lightened by a touch of vinegar; Cabbage and Carrots – this mixture was cooked with turmeric without turning to mush, and the natural sweet notes were shining through with the cabbage and more so with the so-sweet carrot; Red Lentils – this legume was quite a hit with the lentils cooked until soft and tasting full-flavored and slightly sweet; Yellow Lentils – this legume was not as tasty as the previous side but I appreciated the mild flavors and its mealy texture. Overall, this was a successful vegetarian/vegan combination that was wiped clean off the platter that they were served in.

Azawe Tibs, Askale Cafe, Washington DCInjera Bread, Askale Cafe, Washington DCFor the meat, we ordered Awaze Tibs. Strips of beef were cooked with garlic, onions, tomato, and fresh ginger along with some spices that made the meat bits very flavorful and a bit smokey from the condiments. The ginger added a fresh flavor, the fresh tomato a bit of sweetness and acidity to lighten the beef, and the slices of jalapeño the vegetal spice kick. The meat was a tad firm but I didn’t expect it to be smooth as butter either, and the whole mix was a hit for me and my companion. The fermented sourdough spongy Injera bread tasted light, fresh, and the right amount of sourness to be the perfect vehicle for all the vegetables, legumes, and meaty pieces. The customary use of hands in eating the dishes added to the satisfactory meal experience.

 

Askale Cafe, Washington DCWell this was the experience that I was looking for in order to write this blog. The coffee ceremony was not only charming but it was a cultural experience that was both revelatory and unique. The cup of java was not exactly what one would expect due to his or her conditioning, but the flavor was aromatic and amazingly, there was no hint of bitterness on my tongue on the drive home. Still lingering on my taste buds were also the vegetable and beef dishes that my companion and I enjoyed for lunch, with the wonderful flavors and well-prepared dishes having a lasting impression on my mind. Yes, the service is a tad slow since it is a family run place, but the culinary experience was well-compensated by the quality of cooking and the personable treatment by the husband-and-wife team. I can’t wait for their liquor license to be approved soon and for this cafe to turn into a proper restaurant. Once the ball gets rolling in that area, I’m sure it will be a hit in the neighborhood.

Etete

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. Etete

Eating EthiopianEntering 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.

.Vegetarian Plate Enjera BreadThe 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.

Doro WatI 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.

.Yeawaz Tibs 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.

EteteEtete 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. Etete on Urbanspoon