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Professor12's Profile

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Plaza Grill?

Just read the AZCentral's review of Plaza Grill and it sounds like a fabulous place for an authentic Mexican meal. Has anyone been? Does anyone have a menu? I'm hoping that it might offer some great vegetable dishes of the scope of Oyamel (oyamel.com) in Washington, DC as Mexican restaurant dining can be frustrating as a vegan with the preponderance of Sonoran cuisine.

May 22, 2008
Professor12 in Southwest

DC with a dairy allergy: No Moo near the Zoo?

I'm vegan and have been to nearly all the Ethiopian restaurants in the district. At the vast majority, all the vegetable dishes are made with vegetable oil save in some rare cases for the mushroom tibbs. One of the reasons for this is that traditionally, religious fasting in Ethiopia included abstaining from all animal products, including butter, and so most of the vegetarian dishes developed without it. On the meat side, spiced butter (niter kebbeh) is a common ingredient. Hope that helps (and Etete is a good choice; other good choices around U Street are Queen Makeda across the street and Dukem).

Apr 25, 2008
Professor12 in Washington DC & Baltimore

cheap vegetarian/vegan eats near Chandler

Both Udupi and Blue Nile Cafe are very vegan friendly, explicitly labeling most of their menus as vegan (and willing to make substitutions). I am a big fan of Blue Nile particularly, as it has consistently had the best vegan/vegetarian Ethiopian I've experienced anywhere (and I have eaten at more than twenty places in the metropolitan DC area which has the largest concentration of Ethiopians in the country).

Mar 23, 2008
Professor12 in Southwest

Ethiopian on College Student Budget?

I've had the pleasure of eating at most of the ethiopian restaurants in the district and Silver Spring areas. I would second the recommendations to Queen Makeda, Etete, and Dukem, in that order. I just ate at Queen Makeda on Saturday and the food was better than ever. One thing you should let your stepdaughter know however is that service at most Ethiopian places is slow at best. For instance we were seated at Queen Makeda at 1:40 for lunch and didn't see food till close to 3:00.

If you want to read some more reviews of the U street Ethiopian restaurants, try searching my screename on this board. I did a week long series of reviews this past August which I think you may find valuable.

Mar 17, 2008
Professor12 in Washington DC & Baltimore

Soy milk expiration dates- myth or reality or marketing ploy

Well sorry to complicate things but I have been making homemade soymilk for more than two years now, about 2 quarts every four days as I use it. I've had homemade stuff sit around for 9-10 days and at that point I can begin to detect a sour taste/smell that gets worse with time. If you keep the containers you keep it in very clean/sterile this isn't a problem but I tend to use plastic containers that are hard to clean and I try to use soap as sparingly as possible as the plastic has a tendency to absorb the flavor of the soap. Also the vast majority of commercial soymilk has salt or other preservatives that help to preserve the opened shelf life. Thankfully in either case you're not going to get ecoli/salmonella from soymilk.

Mar 01, 2008
Professor12 in General Topics

Brunch/Lunch in Georgetown w/ Vegan

I've been a vegan Georgetown student for the past three years.

Pizza Paradiso would be a great option (they do have vegan soy cheese). Amma Vegetarian Kitchen would have the widest selection of options for a vegan as well as probably the best south indian cuisine in the District. While they do use ghee/yogurt in some dishes, they have been more than happy to leave the ghee off the dosai when asked. Harmony Cafe is still around and has vegan alternatives of nearly all their dishes in addition to the strictly vegetarian menu options but having dined there three or four times, I've never been impressed by their food. George's Falafel is another good option for a quick lunch as well as Quick Pita. For something more substantial try Zed's Ethiopian next door to George's which has some of the best Ethiopian vegetarian(almost all vegan) in the district (though overpriced). Cafe Divan on Wisconsin is another option if you're in the mood for Turkish. Hope that helps.

Feb 28, 2008
Professor12 in Washington DC & Baltimore

Ethnic to stay away from V-Day crowds?

For Ethiopian on V-day, no better place than Etete or perhaps Queen Makeda. Queen Makeda has a more comfortable, homey interior while Etete is more refined and modern. The food at Etete is a lot better, particularly their vegetarian combination which is probably the best in the city (I'm a vegan and have eaten at nearly all the local spots and you can find my reviews on this board if you search). In any case they are both located in "Little Ethiopia" around 9th and U St.

Feb 07, 2008
Professor12 in Washington DC & Baltimore

Vegetarian Experiment For a Month

I would definitely recommend Ethiopian restaurants as the district has probably the highest concentration in the country. You can search these boards for a number of my reviews of some of the best places but my top three would probably be Etete, Dukem, and Queen Makeda on 9th and U Street and Zed's in Georgetown. If you're looking for the most variety I would go to Dukem and get the special 15 dish Lenten season fasting menu. You might also try the new Abol Ethiopian Restaurant in Silver Spring (http://www.abolethiopiancuisine.com/e...) which got a favorable review in the Washington Post.

As others have mentioned, Indian is a great option. Amma's Vegetarian in Georgetown has DC's best southern Indian food. I am a regular there and they have never dissapointed me. Great dosai and lunch specials. Another all vegetarian Indian place is Nirvana on 19th and K. Haven't made it there yet but it gets favorable reviews. For a slightly more upscale atmosphere, try Heritage India in Glover Park or Dupont Circle. My favorite Indian restaurant in the area though, is Passage to India in Bethesda. The restaurant has dishes from each region and while not entirely vegetarian, a majority of the food is vegetarian and/or vegan (including some killer vegan deserts).

Lastly, I would second Java Green as a great place to stop for lunch dowtown. Stick with the korean dishes and you can't go wrong (try also to get a java sampler for a taste of all their mock meats).

Feb 07, 2008
Professor12 in Washington DC & Baltimore

NY Vegetarian chowhound in Scottsdale and hungry!

My two local favorites are Blue Nile Cafe for some of the country's best ethiopian and Udupi Cafe for south indian. Both are located on Scottsdale Rd/Rural Rd in North Tempe.

Dec 28, 2007
Professor12 in Phoenix

Best Ethiopian restaurant in DC?

This is probably too late but I have posted several reviews of the city's most well known Ethiopian restaurants in the past (just search on this board to find them). I'm also a vegan and I made it a point to ask (and note in my reviews) if the vegetarian selections were cooked in butter. At every place I have tried, the vegetarian sampler platter has been completly vegan, with some specifically noted vegetarian items (usually the mushroom dishes and sometimes shiro) being cooked in butter. I would second steve's rec of etete and queen makeda.

Dec 11, 2007
Professor12 in Washington DC & Baltimore

Udupi Cafe

I remember reading a while ago that Udupi Cafe in Tempe was facing imminent closure over their string of health code violations. I have been a long time customer there and have always had a wonderful experience. The food, service, and setting have always been exemplary and in three years of visits neither I nor any of my dining companions have become ill after eating there. I just looked up there health code record (top award on their latest inspection) and it appears like the restaurant has just opened under new management according to the inspector's notes. Does anyone know what's going on with the restaurant? Did it close and reopen? Are the same people in charge? How has the food fared?

Nov 29, 2007
Professor12 in Southwest

Two great Thai curries at Shanghai Palace!!

Yeah it's on the northeast corner of the Power and Southern intersection (I think). Haven't tried it yet but have been meaning to.

Oct 08, 2007
Professor12 in Southwest

Ethiopian Adventure

I would second Steve's/Danielk's recommendations. I spent a week this August eating my way through many of the places in the U St/9th St area and you can see my reviews if you search past threads on chowhounds.

Oct 07, 2007
Professor12 in Washington DC & Baltimore

Local mushrooms

Anyone? Anyone ordering from a good source online?

Sep 20, 2007
Professor12 in Southwest

Local mushrooms

I just read this story on the AZcentral news site about chefs utilizing local, botique ingredients: http://www.azcentral.com/arizonarepub...

The article mentions that Wright's at the Biltmore uses porcini mushrooms from flagstaff. I love porcinis but I have never found any mushrooms locally. Anyone know what the article is referring to or any Arizona source for wild mushrooms (morels, chanterrelles, porcinis, etc)?

Sep 16, 2007
Professor12 in Southwest

Etete, Dukem, or somewhere else?

Etete has probably the best quality food, and perhaps the best setting, of any of the 9th street restaurants. Dukem does have a wider selection of options (particularly vegetarian dishes) than any competing restaurant and was for a long time considered the best in the area. I recently dined at Queen Makeda and I found the setting and staff charming and the food above average. It was also about five dollars cheaper than what you would spend across the street at Etete for a greater quantity of food. I will second Steve and recommend Queen Makeda but if you're ever in the area during the Christian lenten season, give Dukem a try. They have a special 12 and 14 dish vegetarian combo they offer during the lenten fasting season that has some pretty unique things to try.

Another option is Zenerbech Injera, a take out market with a couple tables on T and 7th street. You can forget about decor here, but the food is great, the portions large and the prices competitive. Not the place for a relaxing chat with your spouse but definitely something to try.

Here are my recents reviews of Zenerbech and Queen Makeda:
http://www.chowhound.com/topics/425911
http://www.chowhound.com/topics/425276

Sep 02, 2007
Professor12 in Washington DC & Baltimore

Indian Restaurant Near ASU (Tempe)

Another nod for Udupi Cafe. I haven't been to Dehli Palace (yet...) so I can't comment on it personally beyond that it has a good reputation here.

Udupi Cafe is an all vegetarian (mostly vegan), south Indian restaurant specializing in dosai, uttapam, idyl, and other south indian staples (though the curries are less regional). I've been many times and have thoroughly enjoyed each experience. In particular the dosai, the appetizer platter, and the more southern curries are excellent. One should know however, that Udupi has had problems with the health department in the past though I haven't heard of any recent trouble there and have never seen or experienced anything there that would make me doubt the food.

Aug 28, 2007
Professor12 in Southwest

the best vegetarian food "products"

I like Tofurkey's products particularly the beer brats and the hickory smoked turkey slices. Tofurkey doesn't use gmo soy or soy protein isolate which I also appreciate.

For "cheese" I prefer Vegan Gourmet's Monterey Jack taste wise and VeganRella's Mozerella for its texture. A mix of the two works awesome for pizza/calzones.

Trader Joes is a great resource for frozen meals/prepared meals although I tend to prepare everything I eat from scratch. Some products I do use however are their meatless meatballs, jalepeno hummus, and occasionally their rustico marinara sauce. The vegetable gyozas are above average as well.

Aug 25, 2007
Professor12 in General Topics

Need AZ produced food gifts ideas

I'd also recommend Queen Creek's olive oil, particularly their Tuscan and dipping oils. Amazing floral taste.

Aug 25, 2007
Professor12 in Southwest

Pizzeria Bianco review

Yeah I goofed about Queen Creek; they are the first in Arizona not the country as I should have realized.

As far as reheating pizza, I never would use a microwave for any pizza as it destroys the integrity of the crust. My favorite method is using a preheated pizza stone. Failing that I use a dark pan in a preheated oven. My point however was that I don't think you can seperate Chris's pizza from the experience of eating it at his restaurant, seconds after coming out of the oven. I doubt that pizza like his would hold up for a couple hours let alone a day in a refrigerator.

Aug 24, 2007
Professor12 in Phoenix

Pizzeria Bianco review

I didn’t need to look at a clock to know what time it was. As the minutes had passed, the tone of the surrounding conversation had changed; the soft, languid murmurs of forty people opining on half as many things changed to a tense buzzing, more and more frequently hissing “Is it time?” A couple men had gotten up from their chairs and eyed the door nervously while keeping the rest of us well in sight in case there was movement. As tension rose to match the record breaking thermometer, someone made a move. A young couple seated at one of the farther tables by the door jumped up and approached the door. In seconds the rest of the crowd surged forward, a panting mass of humanity all jockeying for position with a passive-aggressive subtlety.

When the door to Pizzeria Bianco finally did open some five minutes later, I was surprised that the group of eight that we had found some thirty minutes earlier had morphed into a line of more than fifty people, a significant portion of which did not get into the first seating. Even on a Wednesday, at five o’clock in the height of the August heat, Chris Bianco draws eager crowds at his eponymous restaurant on 7th and Adams St. in downtown Phoenix.
While other chefs who have been accorded similar accolades flaunt their prominence and merchandise themselves like brands, Chris flies under the radar, focusing instead on preserving the experience and incredible quality that have won him such praise from the culinary literati. And what an experience it is! One is struck first by the setting, a small brick house in Heritage Square, refurnished into an open kitchen and dining area with “cozy” room for forty. The burnished, exposed ducting and vaulted ceiling gives the otherwise small interior an airiness that belies its square footage. Whether seated at the bar or at the ten or so tables, one has a clear view of the kitchen and its incredible wood burning oven, the forge where Chris and his staff meld crust and toppings into a symphony of taste.

After we were seated at a four top near the back, the server came by to take our drink orders and explicate on the relatively small menu. Pizzeria Bianco, like Chris, is focused almost exclusively on the delectable hybrid of New York and Neapolitan style pizza that has won “Best Pizza in America” praise from several publications, and you won’t find much else on the menu. We decided, at the suggestion of our server, to start with the Antipasto ($12.00), and two pizzas, the classical Marinara ($10.00) and Margherita ($11.00) as well as two iced teas for my parents and water for my brother and I. After about five minutes, a waitress came by with fresh bread and olive oil, complimentary with the antipasto or salad and $2.00 otherwise. Just looking at the sliced bread was enough to make me salivate and the first taste, bathed in olive oil was a revelation in simple pleasures. The bread was chewy with an open crumb and crisp crust that one can only get with the kind of oven Chris employs. The olive oil however, redefined what this now ubiquitous oil could be. Extremely floral and bright, the olive oil tasted like summer made liquid, more akin to fine wine then the run of the mill and relatively flavorless supermarket variety could ever hope to be. We were so struck with the taste that we asked the waitress from whom Chris bought his olive oil and she soon returned with the website of Queen Creek Olive Mill, a local company operating the United State’s only olive mill.

Soon thereafter our antipasto arrived. Arranged on an oval plate were Chris’s rendition of eggplant parmesan, roasted red peppers, cremini mushrooms, green beans, a couple varieties of beets, two small wedges of a hard cheese, and four slices of Sopressata. Each vegetable was the epitome of its kind, bursting with flavor and a caramelized sweetness from the oven roasting. The mushrooms in particular were outstanding, easily the best I have ever had with an outer caramelization one would more readily associate with meat, not a meager fungi.

Pizzas were flying in out of the oven by the time we finished our appetizer, and I was entranced by the ballet that was Chris and his sous chefs. At times juggling a cell phone, always chatting up a server or a guest, Chris was clearly in his element flowing from pizza to pizza as his sous chefs dished up salads, retrieved dough and moved pizzas in the oven. Chris’s pizzas bake for about six to seven minutes, long enough to char the outer edges and cook the toppings at 700 degrees Fahrenheit. Thankfully we didn’t have to wait too long for our pizzas to arrive, each about 11 inches, drizzled with olive oil and resting on their own individual plates.

If the bread and antipasto had been revelatory, this was near euphoric. The crust at the center was almost paper thin with an inner chewiness that played against the crisp exterior. The thinness of the crust made each of the six slices delicate but not so much to make eating by hand a difficult proposition. I gave the knife and fork routine only a passing thought before digging in, hands first, and savoring my first bite of the Marinara. Atop the crust was a sauce of fresh tomatoes, probably picked only the day before and bursting with sweetness. Joining the roughly pureed tomatoes were thinly shaved garlic and basil leaves from the herb garden outside. While I enjoy complex food preparations as much and perhaps more than most, the simplicity of the pizza allowed Chris’s incredible ingredients to display their innate characteristics. And then there was the crust. It was at once shatteringly crisp, with a pillowy soft interior, and a flavor that screamed umami with every bite. Lightly caressed with olive oil, rising in hills and valleys as it encircled the pizza, the crust was for me the high point of the experience. I have been cooking pizzas on a weekly basis for years, trying all sorts of techniques and recipes to achieve the sort of crust I had only seen in movies and at times, had the fortune to taste. Chris Bianco’s crust surpassed my wildest expectations, again redefining something seemingly mundane as pizza crust as grand culinary achievement.

As good as the crust or the sauce or the toppings were, it was the marriage of all these elements in perfect proportion that made the pizza the best I have ever tasted. My sentiments were echoed by my father and brother, both of whom were grunting with pleasure as they slowly enjoyed their Margherita with its fresh, homemade mozzarella and basil topping. We could have easily ordered and eaten another pizza but we ended the meal satisfied. Frankly I would hate to order too much and take the pizza home; the thought of reheating Chris’s pizza in a microwave feels vaguely sacrilegious, as if I were destroying a beautiful painting or defacing a sculpture.

Pizzeria Bianco is at once a neighborhood pizzeria and a rare celebration of food as an uncompromised pleasure. While the food might be art, albeit vanishingly temporal, the humble spirit behind its creation lives on, day in and day out.

Aug 23, 2007
Professor12 in Phoenix

Blue Nile Ethiopian Cafe

"I guess I just think that fresh fruit is the best vegan dessert of all"

Likewise but for someone who so rarely gets a chance to eat a conventional dessert, it was something of a novelty. Also something I forgot to mention was that Blue Nile was going to be carrying raw desserts/dishes in the future. Perhaps some fruit tarts/pies with raw nut crusts. Should be interesting.

Aug 19, 2007
Professor12 in Southwest

Blue Nile Ethiopian Cafe

Walking into an Apple store is like a lecture in effective brand marketing. Everywhere you look, from the table arrangements, to the walls, to the product kiosks and the employees themselves screams Apple; this is life with an i. It had only been the second time I had been in an Apple store but the experience was still mesmerizing, particularly for a rabid computer enthusiast like me. Yet I wasn’t there to browse the new iMacs or play with the iPhone. My brother had broken his fourth gen iPod awhile ago and wanted to see if the Genius Desk (yes the service support call themselves that) had any suggestions before he gave it up as a lost cause.

Conveniently enough, this entailed a trip to Chandler Fashion Square Mall which is only blocks away from my last unexplored Ethiopian restaurant in the valley, Tina’s Ethiopian Café. Tina doesn’t post her hours online and from what others have written, they have a tendency to change from day to day so I gave her a call to see when she would be open on Saturday. Unfortunately she had cut her dinner hours short, opening at 6 and taking her last seating at 9 PM which didn’t agree with our growling stomachs or my dad who had decided to tag along. Instead I suggest my perennial favorite, Blue Nile, and off we went down Rural.

I hadn’t been to Blue Nile in a couple months and in the interim the restaurant has undergone some significant changes. Walking up we saw a freestanding sign outside advertising their new breakfast options including omelets and a vegan tofu scramble, all ranging in price from 4.95-7.95. While certainly a break from the Ethiopian standards, the photographed dishes looked good and I was pleased to see the vegan options. The dining room had undergone some changes as well, a fresh coat of paint as well as some new native art adorned the walls. It gave the restaurant a cozier feel, less a college hangout and more the type of place I would feel comfortable taking my parents (which I was doing…). Instead of the laminated one sided menus of old, the waitress appeared with three large double sided pieces of paper with a completely new and expanded menu. In the next couple days I will try and photograph the menu for everyone and post it online. The new menu is organized between “East of Red Sea” and “West of Red Sea” dishes with the nine vegetarian entrees labeled “Vegan Entrees.” The breakdown is as follows: Appetizers, West of Red Sea Salads, East of Red Sea Salads, Vegan Entrees, Chicken and Beef, Ethio Combos, West of Red Sea Specials, East of Red Sea Specials, Side Dishes, and Beverages. The East of Red Sea specials includes several non Ethiopian dishes like falafel made with fava beans and a grilled chicken/vegetable plate served on rice with side hummus and pita. We decided to stick with the standard Ethiopian menu and ordered the Vegan combo for three (8.50 per person), selecting Tikil Gomen (stewed cabbage with potatoes), Misir Watt (red lentils in berbere), Atkilt Watt (string beans, carrots, and potatoes in a tomato based sauce), Gomen Watt (collard greens in a ginger sauce), and Begerdan (eggplants with bell peppers and onion stewed in a tomato based sauce). We also added two salads, Misir Azifa (green lentils served cold in a tangy Dijon dressing), a personal favorite of mine, and a tomato salad (3.50 each). My brother chose the Guava juice, a slightly sweet, tangy, and thoroughly refreshing fruit drink, and my father went for the house tea, freshly brewed with notes of clove and nutmeg (2.00 each).
As we sat and waited for our food to arrive the restaurant slowly filled with customers. Business seems to be going well as two large parties followed shortly after us and a couple smaller groups trickled in as we ate. After about 15 minutes, our food arrived on a large platter along with accompanying injera. The first thing I noticed was that the edges of some of the injera were crispy, as if they had been pulled off the stove just before the point of being overcooked. The injera was very light in color and unfortunately did not have the sour taste I associate with true injera made with Teff flour, which they advertise prominently on the tables. I am not sure if this is because they aren’t fermenting it as long or if they’re using less Teff in their mixture but I would have appreciated the sour note. The food however was fantastic, each dish the best example I had ever tasted. The azifa was cool and tangy with an excellent Dijon dressing that balanced well with the lightly cooked lentils. The tomato salad, an afterthought at most Ethiopian restaurants, perhaps surprised me with the most. The tomatoes were some of the best I’ve tasted all season, exploding with a sweet flavor one can only get from local, ripe tomatoes at the height of summer. They were pared with finely chopped onions, jalapenos, and a pleasant vinaigrette that combined for an excellent salad and one that you could actually eat with the injera as opposed to the humongous chunks of tomato and bagged romaine I’ve encountered elsewhere. The gomen, one of my benchmarks at any Ethiopian restaurant, was another stunner; the collard greens were perfectly cooked with a subtle ginger sauce and garlic each of which elevated the dish beyond the boring interpretations I’ve tasted before. The misir wat was well prepared, with a slowly building heat and well cooked. It wasn’t the best example I’ve had but competently prepared and not soaked in oil which I appreciated. The Begerdan is to my experience unique to Blue Nile Café and one of their better vegetable dishes. It was good as usual though I thought the tomato sauce dominated the eggplant and bell pepper a tad too much. The same could not be said for the excellent Atkilt Watt where the tomato pared in just the right proportion with the tender green beans, carrots and potatoes. Last but not least was the Tikil Gomen, another excellent example of the classic stewed cabbage and potato dish in a gingery sauce, each component tender and savory. If there was anything to fault it might be the amount of food which given our ravenous appetites I would have liked slightly more of (although we didn’t ask for more which they have been happy to provide gratis in the past).
Finishing with our entrees we decided to split a slice of the vegan coffee cake (strawberry or orange) and a couple Ethiopian coffees (3.00 and 2.00 dollars respectively). The coffee cake has been on the menu ever since I first came to Blue Nile three years ago but I had yet to try it. The strawberry version was a revelation in vegan desserts, a sinfully delicious marriage of “cream” and layered coffee crumb with a sweet caramel and almond top. The coffee was another winner, strong but without the bitterness I typically associate with poorer coffee.

The service throughout was great. Our waitress paid attention to us without ever hounding us, keeping our water glasses full, offering refills for my father’s tea, and bringing food out promptly. There was a ten minute wait for our desserts but that was understandable given the increased business and the coffee which was freshly brewed.
Blue Nile has changed significantly over the last couple months but only for the better. Although I still have yet to try Tina’s, I can safely recommend Blue Nile for anyone even mildly interested in a different dining experience, particularly vegan/vegetarian diners. The food and flavors are fresh, the prices are affordable, and the service is spot on. Saturday was one of the best dining experiences I’ve had in the past few years, and I hope to repeat it soon.

Aug 18, 2007
Professor12 in Southwest

Omo Bar and Restaurant review

This is the last in my series of Ethiopian restaurant reviews for the DC and Silver Spring area. These and a few others will form the basis for a new blog I'm creating for vegan restaurant reviews. I'm also working on a list in the same vein of Tyler's guide for the local Ethiopian scene.

Ever since I started cultivating my love for ethnic cuisine, I’ve been on the lookout for the undiscovered gem, the kind of place one might share with friends, close friends that is, and brag smugly about to others. I had a vision in my head of what it would be like: a rundown exterior with a relatively clean and inviting interior, patronized by a large local community and run by a small family all of whom were involved in the restaurant operations. Those kind of places exist but as I have eaten I have found the image to be the rare exception rather than the rule.

Omo restaurant is that exception or at least the closest to my idyllic vision. Located down Sligo Avenue in Silver Spring, Maryland, the restaurant sits next to a small natural food store and tire repair shop. Besides some African text on the sign there is little to indicate what type of food the restaurant serves or even if it is open for business. The closed metal shades hide what is a well adorned interior, a moderately sized one floor dining room with a large bar along the left wall that stretches back nearly the length of the room. Upon walking in I was greeted by two female servers, one who might have been the elderly grandmother and perhaps her daughter, who seated me quickly and brought the menu. The tvs were as typical tuned to the latest soccer match and Ethiopian music blared from speakers, drowning out most of the ambient conversation from the bar. Omo offers three vegetarian combinations for $7.99, $8.99, and $9.99 respectively. Feeling adventurous I went the third option which was despite what the menu indicated still only $7.99.
Sitting back I admired the large tables and comfortable chairs that graced the entrance to the restaurant while I waited for my dinner. Almost ten minutes later, the older waitress brought out my platter. I immediately tucked into the gomen, visibly resplendent with minced garlic. Although somewhat tepid, the flavor was incredible. Not oily in the slightest, the collard greens were tender, flavorful, and even savory. The garlic was subtle but added significantly to the overall flavor. I couldn’t get enough of it and later asked for some more which the younger waitress quickly brought out gratis. Next was the salad of tomatoes, lettuce, red onion, and jalapeño. This was probably the best preparation of this type of salad that I’ve had, or at least one of the few that had been created by someone who had at least once attempted to eat it with injera. The ingredients were chopped sufficiently small to make eating it quite easy; the dressing was tangy and applied in the perfect proportion to dress not drench the fresh tomatoes and lettuce. The next dish I had been looking forward to as I had not ever seen it before on an Ethiopian menu. It consisted of a very large jalapeño pepper stuffed with could be described as a tomato relish/confit. Throwing caution to the wind I ate a large section of the jalapeño that had been cut out of it to allow direct access to the stuffing. While the inner membrane had been cut out the heat was still overwhelming and I was quickly reaching for the water. The tomato stuffing was quite good by itself, infused with the jalapeño flavor without being excessively spicy and obviously made from fresh tomatoes and onions. Moving on was another dish I have rarely seen before. Unfortunately I have yet to find an accurate description or name for it but Omo’s preparation consisted of a dark, mole like sauce a tad spicier than berbere with a deeper flavor, which adorned little chunks of ground chickpea balls. The best analogy I can find would be falafel but these balls do not seem fried and the mixture seems to have peanuts as well. I have had this dish before at Dukem during their Lenten season and found it disappointing, albeit interesting, as the chickpea/nut balls had a dry texture and the sauce was too one dimensional for my tastes. Omo’s was a great balance of flavors, just hot enough to provoke sweat after prolonged eating but without overshadowing the other flavors in the sauce. The balls themselves were also much improved over Dukem’s perhaps owing to the relative smaller size. Next up was a dish of green beans, carrots, potato, and cabbage with a bit of jalapeno thrown in for good measure. Each of the components was cooked to ideal tenderness, something of a feat given that the potato chunks were significantly larger than the carrots or green beans. The vegetables had been stewed in something like a tomato/ginger sauce and while a just a tad dry, managed to convey that subtle flavor on the palette. Last but certainly not least was the misir wat. I think I have found, for now at least, my ideal preparation of this Ethiopian standard. Savory and balanced, the lentils melted on the tongue without being mushy. The background heat was enough to be noticeable but did not ever detract from the dish; it rose and plateaued at a comfortable level that only heightened the experience.

Throughout my meal the restaurant remained largely unoccupied with the rest of the patrons sitting at the bar and conversing with the wait staff. I noticed one man who seemed to eye me from time to time as he talked to the waitresses. After paying and thanking the waitresses for a delicious meal, this same man called out to me in the parking lot. His name was Omar(or perhaps Oman, I had a hard time with his pronunciation) and as I later learned, he owns Omo Bar and Restaurant. He asked if I had enjoyed the food and was especially concerned that if I found it appetizing as a vegetarian. After assuring him that I thought the food was on par, if not the best in the DC area, and talking about my life in DC, he encouraged me to come back any time in the future, a friend of the house. It might take me awhile until I can get out to the Silver Spring area again, but I know where I’ll be heading for lunch or dinner with friends and acquaintances in tow. Omo in my opinion executes the vegetarian dishes it serves (all vegan by the way) better than any other Ethiopian restaurant I have visited in the DC or Maryland area at a lower price than Etete or Dukem who I would rate as second. The only drawback is that it only offers a limited number of vegetarian options compared to the 14 course feasts one can order during the Lenten season at Dukem. Still I’d much rather have a few dishes done well than ten or more of middling quality.

Omo Bar and Restaurant
621 Sligo Avenue, Silver Spring, MD 20910
(301)562-7001 (carryout available)

Aug 03, 2007
Professor12 in Washington DC & Baltimore

Ethiopian - who has items beyond the "standard menu"?

I would also recommend Zed's though I haven't had the indugay tibbs or cottage cheese there. Inguday tibbs isn't that rare of a vegetable dish; often it creeps up in appetizer sections as well as the "vegetarian" section. I think that might be because it is traditionally made with niter kibbeh (spiced butter) whereas the vast majority of vegetarian items on an ethiopian menu are made with oil in order to adhere to the fasting proscriptions of the Ethiopian orthodox church. I'd also check out Dukem, especially during the fasting (Lenten) season. They offer both a 12 and 14 item vegetarian combo that has some unique dishes on it, including the spiced cottage cheese, telba wat, azifa, and other specialties. If raw meat is your thing several places offer it, particularly Zenebech Injera and a few others in Little Ethiopia around 9th and U streets. You may need to do some convincing that you want the meat raw if your not an expat yourself, but they should offer it.

Aug 03, 2007
Professor12 in Washington DC & Baltimore

Abiti Ethiopian restaurant review

Sometimes I feel tired after a long day at work or school, unable to face the prospect of another hour or more at the stove trying to create a delicious, plant based meal. Typically I soldier on, reverting to a repertoire of tried and true dishes that while simple never fail to please. I wish the same could be said for Abiti Ethiopian restaurant on 9th street’s Ethiopian row. The restaurant, the wait staff, and the food feel tired and unfortunately neither the quality or the value make up for it.

Abiti occupies a narrow storefront, with the majority of the restaurant stretching back from the main street and a small bar nestled in the far right corner. The relatively modest exterior belies a pleasant interior painted in a warm orange/peach hue with pictures and African crafts lining the walls. A messob greets patrons near the door but the tables here are standard and rather small, about 10 or so in all. When I walked in the restaurant was empty save for the two female servers who quickly got up to seat me and bring the menu. The menu has the usual suspects you’ll find at any Ethiopian restaurant though it was somewhat cluttered with meat entrees somehow slipping into the vegetarian section. I was happy to see that Abiti advertised a green split pea shiro on the vegetarian menu and after making sure all the vegetarian entrees were vegan, went ahead and ordered the vegetarian combination ($12.50).

The first sign of trouble was the sound of a microwave being turned on shortly after my order was placed. I can’t know for sure what was going on but the correlation suggested that the food was not as fresh as I would have liked. About ten minutes later the bell in the kitchen rang and now the lone waitress brought out my platter and injera. I immediately noted the rather small portion size especially given the price. Nearby Queen Makeda serves almost twice the amount of food for five dollars less. The first dish I tried was the beet salad. As I have written previously, beets are not my favorite vegetable and as such I am hard pressed to judge what is a good preparation. These however were quite tasty with an almost sweet taste and soft though not mushy texture. Off to a good start I tried the carrots and green beans dish next. This was somewhat depressing visually as I could see that the carrots were bagged baby carrots that had been halved vertically, not the irregular but more interesting chunks I usually see. I could have made the same determination from the taste as well; the carrots tasted like they had just come from a bag at Safeway. Moving on I tried the gomen. Besides the paltry amount that was on the platter, this was an above average preparation of collard greens stewed with garlic. While most of the dishes were not oily at all, the greens had been doused quite liberally which added nothing to the flavor; the garlic similiarly did little to liven up the competenly cooked greens. Moving counter clockwise around the platter, I next tried the yellow split peas. These had a perfect texture and tasted fresh though they were fairly uninteresting and suffered as the temperature of the dish dropped. That is one of the benefits of the preparations of this and other dishes that use spices and aromatics; they retain more flavor, longer, allowing one to linger over the food. Salad came next and thankfully the cooks at Abiti understand the nuisance of large chunks of tomatoes and lettuce. The salad was simple, consisting of tomatoes, jalapeños and a few bits of onion dressed with a scant amount of vinaigrette. Unfortunately while the size was right, the salad revealed still more laziness on the part of the kitchen. Instead of deseeding the jalapeño it had been chopped up whole with one section near the top of the pepper literally bursting with seeds. Needless to say biting into this was a rather unpleasant surprise. Last on the perimeter of the platter was a carrot and potato dish with half a jalapeno left to mingle with the large rectangular cuts of potato. The dish was underwhelming, the bad taste of the carrots again dominating whatever flavoring the dish may have once had. Last but definitely not least was the misir wat. This was fantastic, a symphony of flavors on the tongue and with just a little heat to back it up. It ranks with Zed’s as being the best misir wat I have ever had.

Service throughout was great for Ethiopian standards. The waitress refilled my water glass without prompting, paid attention to the front of the house in between perusing the paper, and seemed friendly. I wish someone could inspire the kitchen to take the food more seriously but perhaps the ample local competition will do so in time. As of now I can’t recommend it when there are so many great restaurants within easy walking distance, serving better food for less money.

Abiti Ethiopian Restaurant
1909 9th St NW, Washington DC 20001

Aug 02, 2007
Professor12 in Washington DC & Baltimore

Zula Restaurant review

Hmmm perhaps I missed Nile the last time I was in the area, about a year ago. I may check it out later this week.

Aug 01, 2007
Professor12 in Washington DC & Baltimore

Axum Restaurant review

The typical rules of restaurant management seem to breakdown within the ethnic enclaves of the country’s great dining cities. In some instances prompt service, or any at all, is about as rare as the meat that finds it way to the tables of eager expats. One of these inversions that culinary adventurers look for, indeed celebrate, are the dreary exteriors and horrible locations that hide diamonds in the rough of gastronomic delight. Looking at Axum Restaurant, I thought I had found my own example of this rare phenomenon; a neighborhood dive with great food for cheap.

Axum ended up delivering on the first two points. Like Zula Restaurant across the street, the cuisine is vaguely Etrian with a token pasta dish, parmesan canisters on the tables and oddly, lots of chicken dishes on the menu. Walking in, past the dilapidated exterior and barred windows, I met a raucous scene of perhaps 15 customers talking excitedly over dinner before shortly retiring to watch what appeared to be Al Jazeera. Like nearly all Ethiopian restaurants, Axum has a long bar spanning most of the narrow restaurant which stretches a fair ways back from its meager front on 9th street.

The menu besides the pasta and chicken featured all the Ethiopian standards and offered vegetarian dishes for 7.95 or the combination for $12.95. When I read the prices I nearly walked out, knowing that I could be guaranteed a great dinner at next door Etete for less. But what’s the fun in that? I placed my order and sat back to try and read the paper while I waited for my meal. It was an unsuccessful attempt with the background noise, a cacophony of loud discussions, music, and television commentary in at least two languages. The interior itself didn’t help matters with sharp angles and a low ceiling; the walls were unadorned though well kept in opposition the exterior. About fifteen minutes later I heard a bell in the kitchen which I correctly interpreted to be my meal.
One of the first things I noticed after the waitress brought out my platter was the inaccurate description of the items on the menu. I frequently find this in Ethiopian restaurants but I suspect it would be disconcerting for the first timer who probably has a hard enough time identifying the dishes for what they ordered, even if the descriptions were accurate. For instance the gomen was described as spinach gomen with peppers. What appeared was a standard, simple collard green gomen that while competently prepared was not spinach, nor adorned with any detectable spice or aromatic. The Fasoli, described as green beans, potatoes, and carrots came out as green beans stewed with a couple small carrot chunks in a tomato based sauce. This preparation is actually one of my favorites and I have had it served cold (Café Lalibela in Tempe, Arizona) and warm at Dukem. Axum’s was quite good, the green beans tasting fresh with a texture that was almost chewy and without an overpowering tomato taste that would indicate the use of tomato paste. The menu didn’t mention the next two dishes I tried, the first being a cabbage and potato dish that was good and uniformly tender. The second dish was cubed sweet potatoes in a spicy, dark sauce that looked like a dark mole. I thought the dish was interesting but ultimately disappointing as the flavors didn’t pair well together. I have had the exact same sauce at Dukem on their Lenten season vegetarian platter where it adorned balls of ground chickpeas (vaguely reminiscent of falafel) and a simple sweet potato dish at Ras Kassas, the only Ethiopian restaurant in Boulder, Colorado. Sweet potatoes can be delicious but they lost their distinctiveness, drowned in the overpowering spicy sauce. Next was the salad: romaine lettuce, tomatoes, and onions dressed in vinaigrette. I have always felt that these salads are out of place on an Ethiopian platter, and in most cases seem to be afterthoughts. Salad or anything similar does not appear in my copy of Exotic Ethiopian Cooking nor in any reference I have read of traditional Ethiopian cooking. Perhaps it is an attempt to bridge the continental divide or another relic, like pasta, of colonial times. In any case, Axum’s rendition suffered from the common problem of not chopping the ingredients, particularly the tomatoes in small enough pieces to make eating it feasible with injera. Last down the gullet were the yellow split peas. These were well cooked, semi puréed with a smooth texture albeit one that solidified a bit as it cooled, getting progressively more thick and clumpy. The injera was decent, slightly thicker than usual and not quite as sour.

Service, while attentive was largely indifferent. I never felt welcome in the restaurant, rather that I was invading a familiar space and causing stress by virtue of my presence. I also had trouble communicating with the wait staff, partially due to the ambient sound, partially due to the language barrier. All that being said they answered all my questions when I was able to clarify my meaning, for instance assuring me that the vegetarian dishes are cooked in oil not spiced butter and are thus vegan.

I’d like to call Axum a diamond in the rough but the prices and service drag down what would have been an above average, perhaps great, dining experience. The food itself was almost as good as Dukem, on par with Zed’s and Queen Makeda’s, also on 9th street. However when there are several restaurants within a block serving comparable food for five or more dollars less, it’s hard to recommend.

Axum restaurant
1936 9th Street NW, Washington, DC, 202-387-0765

Aug 01, 2007
Professor12 in Washington DC & Baltimore

Zula Restaurant review

Thanks for the response and I appreciate the feedback. I don't have a master list compiled yet but I am planning on compiling one at the end of this week/early next week. I am hoping to start a vegan restaurant review blog and these reviews will be some of my first entries. I have eaten at most of the adam's morgan establishments and the two places in Silver Spring so 9th street and the surrounding area was the last place for me to really explore. Hope these reviews and my eventual list/blog prove valuable for ethiopian fans out there particularly the vegetarians/vegans (like me) who aren't generally considered in non veg restaurant reviews.

Jul 31, 2007
Professor12 in Washington DC & Baltimore

Zula Restaurant review

Walking into Zula restaurant can be a bit of a culture shock as well as a history lesson. The shabby exterior belies a narrow restaurant filled with only six or so tables, three of which surrounded by low leather armchairs that look teleported from a 70’s law firm’s office. Reading the special on the white board outside, whole fish with pasta for $6.99, one might think this is a neighborhood red sauce joint. The large containers of dry parmesan standing on every table as well as the oil and vinegar trays sustain the illusion just a moment longer.

Yet Zula is not an Italian restaurant, at least in the conventional sense. Sitting in the heart of 9th street’s “Little Ethiopia,” Zula is one of the few examples of Etrian cuisine in DC. The pasta that is featured prominently on Zula’s menu is not an appeal to American palettes but a legacy of their colonialist past under the Italians. While most of Africa was at one time or another divided up as colonies among the imperial powers of Europe, it was not until the turn of the 20th century that Etria finally won its independence from its Italian overlords. Their legacy however, forever changed Etria’s food and that is why at Zula, you will find pasta with meatballs besides gored gored, kifto, and the eponymous vegetable combination ($7.99).

I chose as always the latter, an all vegan combination of spinach gomen, salad of lettuce, tomatoes and green peppers, yellow split peas, misir wat, and a tikil gomen of cabbage and carrots. While I waited the short five minutes for my order, I mentioned to the waitress that I liked my food spicy. When she brought out my platter she also gave me a small dipping bowl of ground Etrian mustard that was perhaps the strongest I have ever tasted. Pleasingly hot but too overpowering to be used in combination with any of vegetable dishes. The first dish I tried was the lettuce/tomato/pepper salad. I had expected this to come dressed but it was completely unadorned and chopped into large pieces that were extremely unwieldy with the injera. Thankfully the table vinaigrette was palatable but no amount of dressing made it easier to eat large chunks of romaine and full slices of tomato by hand. The next dish to enter the gullet was the yellow split peas. These were almost room temperature when the platter was brought to my table but the flavor was incredible despite, o r perhaps because of, this. The texture was perfect, just pureed smooth but still with some body and flecked with bits of jalapeño and sautéed green pepper. This was the best preparation I have ever had. The spinach gomen was also a new, albeit still traditional, take on the familiar collard green gomen. The spinach was well cooked, flavorful, and full of visible garlic which gave the dish a bit of added complexity and bite. It was good enough for me to order another side of it ($1.99); personally I would much rather they do away with the salad and just present an extra portion of this. Moving on, I tried the misir wat. These were great with a very balanced, savory flavor that didn’t emphasize any one component of the berbere mixture but was instead a pleasant harmony on the tongue. The only thing I would have liked was perhaps a little spiciness but that is a personal preference. Last on the menu was the cabbage and carrots. The cabbage and carrots had been thankfully cooked well, tender but not mushy, with a subtle ginger taste that while not the best preparation I’ve had, certainly ranks highly.

Service throughout was very attentive though I was the only patron for the hour and fifteen minutes I spent there. The waitress even brought out a squeeze bottle of what I think is awaze some time later for me to try in addition to the mustard; it spiced up the yellow split peas though again was a bit too one dimensional to meld well. For the price and service, Zula’s is a hidden gem, with food that nears the quality of such staples as Etete’s and Dukem. I can only hope that the rest of the menu of the very short menu is as good and that more people patronize the restaurant before it is forgotten among the many others on the 9th street row.

Zula Restaurant
1933 9th St. NW, Washington DC 20001
202-483-4404

Jul 31, 2007
Professor12 in Washington DC & Baltimore