Don’t Spill the Honey Wine

On Sunday evening, I was finally able to put down my Kindle, having completed Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese. It was a beautiful read, though I think the editor could have been a bit more heavy-handed. Set in Addis Ababa, the arc follows two boys–orphaned twins–who are growing up under the parentage of two physicians in a local hospital. Verghese writes about Ethiopia with a loving hand, and it was fitting that the night after finishing the book,  I had a few friends join me for an Ethiopian dinner in the U Street neighborhood of DC.

DC is literally awash with Ethiopian cuisine, and you’ll find loyal followers of almost any of the local Ethiopian restaurants. Our choice for the evening was Etete, an intimate spot slightly sequestered from the vibrant U Street scene. Along with Ethiopic on H Street (another fantastic spot, and one I frequented often when I lived closeby), Etete is held in high regard amongst local food critics. The Washingtonian has consistently rated it highly over the past few years, and even on a Monday night, it was a lively and bustling place to eat.

Although I have eaten Ethiopian food on a number of previous occasions, I wanted to make sure that I voiced my food allergy concerns before ordering, both for my benefit and for that of one of my dining companions who happened to have a tree nut allergy to complement my peanut allergy. I’ll say now that if you have a nut allergy, and haven’t yet tried Ethiopian food, you must go at once! There are no nuts on the menu, period. As for corn, not a chance. Soy? All set.

That said, I would like to offer a word of caution for those with serious food allergies. When we tried communicating the allergies to our server, it took about five minutes of pointing, exaggerated enunciation and repetition to make sure it had sunk in. The language barrier, particularly for our server, was quite strong, and it was difficult to ensure that she understood the severity of the issue. It was only because there were no nuts listed on the menu, and the fact that I had eaten there safely in the past that we felt comfortable in ordering.

It’s always a bit of a guessing game for Ethiopian portions, especially when you’re with a group. Our group of four ended up ordering a vegetarian platter and added Yebeg Wat (a lamb dish with crushed red pepper and special butter sauce), Derek Tibs (beef sautéed until crisp in onion, chili, tomato) and Tekil Gomen (fresh cabbage and carrot cooked in oil with onion, fresh garlic, jalapeno). Each pile of food had a unique, tangy and spicy flavor which bled into the injera “plate.” For the uninitiated among you, you might be surprised to hear that Ethiopian food is never eaten with utensils; instead, everything is scooped up by hand with the injera, a spongy pancake-type bread that is served with every dish. I was a bit miffed to find that Etete’s injera is served cool or at room temperature; I prefer mine to be served warm.

I discovered tonight, as I had hoped, that the grain injera is made from, tef, is actually gluten-free! Apart from language barrier issues, Ethiopian food can be a fantastic option for people with restricted diets. Vegetarians would rejoice here, as about 1/3 of the extensive menu is all vegetarian. Gluten-free or people with celiac could enjoy the injera without worry, and there are very few dairy products to be found, so casein allergies or lactose intolerance would also be easy to handle!

While I love the food at Ethiopic, I do not love the service. Walking in, I found the two head waitresses squatting on the staircase engaged in intense conversation. It took a moment for them to acknowledge me, and it was with great annoyance that they paused their gab to seat me and bring me a glass of tea. The food definitely makes up for the less-than-ideal customer service though, and I would gladly go back anytime. Be careful of Etete’s signature honey wine though. Unless you truly enjoy apple cider vinegar, this might not be the right drink for you. (Un)fortunately, the arrival of our last dining companion and subsequent swaying of the table meant that the honey wine, in all its cloudy yellow glory, was sacrificed to the floor.

Etete | 1942 9th St NW (between N T St & N Florida Ave) Washington, DC 20001  (202) 232-7600

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Julia Child, Blind Dog Cafe, and a Photoshoot

“You don’t have to cook fancy or complicated masterpieces — just good food from fresh ingredients.” Julia Child

Some of you might know that, had Julia Child been alive today, she would have turned 100 years old. As it is, she lasted into her 90s, a vivacious, spirited, inspiring woman until the end. I admit, I’m a bit too young to have really grown up with her classic cooking shows, but whenever I do catch a snippet of an episode, or read about her disastrous mishaps in the kitchen, I’m reminded how awesome she is, and how much influence she’s had on chefs all over the world.

Although Julia has quite the repertoire of great one-liners, I particularly connect with the above quote. I would never have turned down the decadence of Julia’s French cooking, but when I’m deciding what to sit down and eat everyday, I gravitate towards fresh, whole foods–perfect in their simplicity. Which leads me to a place that I choose to sit down and eat at pretty regularly. I was even lucky enough to stage the photo shoot for this blog there: the Blind Dog Cafe.

Blind Dog popped up earlier this year, sharing space with Darnell’s, and from the start, the solid management team prioritized great food, a community-oriented spirit and being gosh darn friendly. Jonas, Cullen and Greer welcomed me on a very steamy DC Saturday morning to do a casual photoshoot to add some personality to my blog. I hated the thought of being a faceless blogger, and knew I wanted to showcase a great local place in my photos. Blind Dog has it all—a bar area with exposed brick and squishy couches that are right out of your proper-gone-senile great-grandmother’s parlour, a stretching row of window seats, and herbs growing in planters outside for the home-made pesto (talk about fresh ingredients!).

Photos by Isaiah Headen

This is the kind of place you spend hours sitting, talking, studying (GRE prep, anyone?) – and of course eating and drinking. The friendly, open vibe of this place is ideal for discussing dietary restrictions, and these are the kind of people that know exactly what’s gone into the food preparation. Although their menu doesn’t necessarily cater to those with dietary restrictions, a frank talk would be all you would need to determine whether a modified dish would be acceptable. I want to thank the fantastic group at Blind Dog for their hospitality and flexibility, and I encourage you all to amble over to this coffeeshop for one of their signature (and massive) chocolate chip cookies. Unless you’re gluten-free, of course (try the beet salad with turkey instead).

Blind Dog Cafe at Darnell’s | 944 Florida Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20001