Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Ottawa's Blue Nile Ethiopian Restaurant - Review

--> One thing I am most grateful for is my parents’ insistence that I try “just one bite” of new foods. Encouraging that practice expanded my curiosity about new flavors. As an adult, the habit of curiosity helps me scoff at all kinds of fear and leap into new adventures. Over time I’ve been dubbed a foodie (kindly) or a food snob (perhaps not so kindly!) Title notwithstanding, I love exotic flavors, finding fabulous restaurants, and sharing great food with wonderful people.
In 1982 a friend introduced me to Ethiopian food at The Blue Nile (yes, same name) in Berkeley, California. It was a unique and addicting experience. The spices were new, the variety was lovely (being vegetarian at the time, I was craving variety—ok... I always crave variety!) In addition to the heavenly flavors, we got to eat with our hands!
My friend explained that Ethiopia is a large and extremely poor East African country. Beef is used as currency there, so is quite rare in everyday cooking. When meat is prepared it’s usually chicken or lamb, but in general, various beans, peas, vegetables and grains are the staples of Ethiopian diet.
Upon arrival in Ottawa, I discovered a website called “Ottawa Foodies.” One of my first goals was to find the city’s best Ethiopian joint. There are a few in town, but the Foodies’ top choice is The Blue Nile, located at 577 Gladstone (at Percy). I agree wholeheartedly, and find no reason to try any of their competitors.
Here is what you will experience if you decide to visit Ottawa’s Blue Nile Restaurant... The pace is slow. This is not a dash-in-and-out restaurant, so give yourself plenty of time. My top menu recommendation is the Vegetarian Combination ($10!). This gives you the chance to taste many flavors at once. Ranging from mild to hot, the Veggie Combo contains servings of cabbage, carrot and potato stew, yellow split peas, green beans, either collard greens or kale, spicy red lentils, cottage cheese, and a small green salad. Each has its own unique, delicious flavor. If you eat meat, there are a number of beef, lamb and chicken options as well. Our favorite is a medium-spicy saucy beef dish with the fun name of Zilzzl Tibbs ($10.99). If you’d like to go a bit spicier, Ye-Doro Wat ($10.99), the traditional wedding or celebration dish of chicken leg, boiled egg, onion, and pepper is served with home-made cottage cheese to cool the pepper bite.
Part of the joy of this food is the manner in which it is served and eaten. Injera, a thin, spongy, sourdough pancake made from the high-protein, gluten-free grain teff, is laid out on a metal tray (like a pizza pan.) A serving of each of your choices is then poured onto the injera, and it is set down into a colorful lidded basket called a mesob. An additional plate of folded or cut-and-rolled injera comes on the side. The food is shared, family-style: one central mesob per table. You eat by tearing off small pieces of injera and pinching/scooping up each bite. Beware: injera expands! You will be full.
I highly encourage you to experience the adventure of dinner at The Blue Nile. Dinner for two, without spirits—including tax and tip—costs under $30.00. Especially for starving-student-foodies, finding delicious, exotic, healthy food within our budgets is a gastronomical delight.

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