Queen of Sheba – Memorable Food, Questionable Service

It was a cold, rainy Saturday. We hadn’t eaten since 11 am. And we needed food that we could eat in our ratty jeans at 530 pm.

Ethiopian, it was!

20150117_173209 Queen of Sheba is the type of place that you might have seen in Alphabet City in the 1990s. It’s half casual cafe/restaurant, half ethnic enclave with low stools and cool (I assume Ethiopian) woven tables with tagine covers. Obviously, we chose the tagine table. And waited to get served. For a loooong time. The service here is lackadaisical at best…at worst, it’s like sitting in coach on a flight all the way to Ethiopia. And this was at an off hour when the restaurant wasn’t busy.  20150117_175145 Tomato salad

Just fabulous. I know, it seems weird – how can a simple tomato, onion, and jalapeno salad be fabulous? But it was. In a bright, but not sour, dressing that is laden with fruity olive oil but surprisingly not heavy or oily. It’s fresh and vibrant, laying on spongy, pleasantly sour injera. The injera underneath the salad is the best part – it soaks up the juices and becomes wonderfully flavorful but not soggy. Oh, and roll up those sleeves – this salad, like all Ethiopian food, is eaten with the hands.

20150117_175153 Sambusas

Samosa-like pastries. Fried pastry pockets filled with cumin spiced ground beef and served with a tangy, spiced (but not spicy) chile sauce. Delectable. You can also get them filled with lentils, which might be even more delicious.  20150117_181740 Kitfo and Menchet Abesh Wot with collard grens, lentils, kidney beans, and cheese

Kitfo – Ethiopian steak tartare – not as good as Awash. Less heat and a bit smokier. Still very tasty, but not my number one fave.

Menchet Abesh Wot – Utterly delicious. Spicy, buttery ground beef seasoned with jalapeno, ginger,and just a hint of garlic. It’s like the best old school taco meat without cumin or coriander. It’s rich, well spiced, and I couldn’t stop eating it. The collard greens, lentils, and kidney beans were all excellent, reminiscent of Indian food. The feta cheese tasted like squeaky air, but that’s really the only  loser on a plate filled with winners.

Queen of Sheba is cheap, delicious, and great…if you aren’t too immediatelyhungry and don’t have anywhere to go. Look, the service is really bad…horrible. But if you are in the hood and have a hankering, I think it’s the bees knees.

All Heat with No Fire at American Table

It might seem a little weird to go to a restaurant with no kitchen.

And yet, that’s just what I’m suggesting you do.

Marcus Samuelsson’s American Table Cafe and Kitchen isn’t fancy. It is nice, since it’s in Lincoln Center’s beautiful atrium, and there is a full bar. But the napkins are paper, the staff is laid back, and you order at the counter.

And. oh yeah…all the food is pre cooked, then assembled there.

How does that work?

Pretty well, evidently.

Doro Wat Chilaquiles

Oh YES! This stuff is just fabulous. Spicy, fragrant berbere mixes with chicken that is so tender, so rich, so flavorful that anyone would swear it was pork. It has the smoky sweet flavor of bbq with the curry-like tastes of ginger and chiles. A few hard boiled egg yolks are a nice color and textural component. Served with fresh, salty tortilla chips, pico de gallo, and a scoop of creamy cottage cheese, it is a mix between Mexican, Indian, and Ethiopian foods.

It’s a million vibrant flavors smacking you in the face.

Love it.

Smoked Caesar Salad

Less successful, but still tasty. The lettuce is fresh, the pumpernickel croutons are crunchy, but the dressing is a bit too smoky and lacks acid. It is tasty enough, though, and the portion is large and the price is right.

 This place sin’t cheap or expensive – its what you wouldexpect to pay in this hood for quick service food, but the food is so much better than I anticipated. The service is definitely relaxed (leaning on the lackadaisical side), but the food is phenomenal! Go with a book or a friend and have a lunch so great that you will never believe that there was no kitchen involved.

It’s amazing at what Samuelsson can do with no kitchen…and how little some people can do with a kitchen.

Not pointing fingers, every family member who ever cooked me Passover dinner as a child. 

Awash – My Entree into Ethiopian Food

Just when I think I know everything, that I have tried every food out there and have nothing more to learn or see in the gastronomic world, something new comes up and smacks me in the face.
Case in point…Awash.

Awash is a small restaurant on the UWS that serves Ethiopian food. I feel like I am the only person who has not tried it – well, the only one who HAD not tried it. So, when this small restaurant (heated to at least 85 F) could seat me late one night, I was ready to sit down and tuck in.

I have heard that Ethiopian restaurants are usually casual, communal affairs and I was envisioning a much more diner-like atmosphere. But this was nicely decorated linen tablecloths, and though it is clearly relaxed, it’s not at all “divey.” This is a great place for a date with an adventurous eater(I mean, I was so warm in that overheated restaurant that I almost took my shirt off – what bodes better for a date than that?).

The one thing it doesn’t have – silverware. You eat everything with your fingers and a stretchy, thin, spongy pancake called Injerea, that is faintly tangy, like sourdough. So wash up before you start to eat.
Sambusa
These meat filled fried pastries were my first clue that I was going to love Ethiopian food. The ground meat was spicy and incredibly savory. It had the cool edge of mint, the bite of onions, a spice from chili powder, and a myriad of other spices that made it sweet, savory, warming and lip tingling. It was similar to Indian and Moroccan food in the multiple taste sensations that were going on, but it had some earthy spices that were all its own.  The meat itself was tender and encased in a crisp, greaseless pastry that was similar to that of a samosa. Served with a bracing, vinegary mustard sauce to cut the fat of the beef, it was a delicious appetizer.

Special Kifto

Lean ground beef, jalapenos, and onions, served with Ethiopian butter and spices(mitmita). Served with Collard Greens and Lentils
The collard greens were fine, I’m sure. The lentils were probably great. Who the hell knows, really? Because I could not tear my fingers or tongue away from the kifto. This Ethiopian steak tartare was…dare I say it?…in contention for my favorite steak tartare in the city. Nothing like the traditional version, this had a medium grind, and was laced with rather sweet onions, crunches of very hot jalapeno, and a spice mixture that, while zesty, was warming and smoky rather than tingly-front-of-the-mouth hot. Most of that heat came from the jalapeno, which made the meat taste sweeter and grassier, made the sourdough taste more tangy, made the whole dish fuller and more delicious. The butter was not apparent, which is a great thing – it let the meat shine through as the main component without being greasy or heavy. This was a myriad of flavors – tender beef, spongy injera, crunchy veggies, and scoops of soft vegetables. Really, I can’t say enough wonderful things about this. You can get the mixture lightly sauteed if you are that sort of wimp.You can get the regular Kifto, too – that is the Kifito in the middle of the injera, and it was just great. But there is something about a meal that has mucus running out of my nose that really earns my respect. So stick with the special Kifto. And be aware – you will not be able to finish this.

We couldn’t, and we did our BEST.

Awash is a stand up restaurant – cheap, large portions, delicious food, and service that is…well, the service is sort of laughable. Not rude, but not what I would call…speedy. But the food is so great that I don’t even care. I am officially obsessed with Ethiopian food. It’s spicy, it’s raw, you eat it with your hands.
And we all know that’s how I like my food and my men.
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