No. 76: Etete
The complaints of people who put down Ethiopian food go something like this: The bread’s too heavy. The stews look like baby food. I don’t like eating with my hands.
The first two dismissals get no traction at this 40-seat bistro in DC’s Little Ethiopia, an area that hugs the eastern end of U Street, Northwest. The injera, a spongy, sourdough crepe made with teff, is lighter and thinner than most. The stews are spooned from black-iron crocks onto those big, floppy rounds, which end up resembling artists’ palettes; they’re not just marvelously distinct but also marvelously vivid.
There is no getting around the final complaint—there’s no other way to eat the food. But eating communally from a platter with a group of friends in this warm, wood-floored bistro can be very pleasant.
The sauces, particularly the caramelized-onion-based versions spiked with berbere powder that enrobe the doro wat and the yebeg alicha —chicken and lamb stews—are as rich and complex as a great sugu or wine reduction. If you’re a devotee of beef tartare, Etete’s kitfo —a chopped raw steak best ordered lightly cooked, dressed up with a pinch of wilted collards called gomen, a dab of cottage cheese, and a sprinkle of mitmita, an incendiary chili powder—will woo you. The gomen alone, with slices of crunchy jalapeño peeking through the dark, buttery leaves, is worth ordering. And don’t miss the chance to savor the cool green lentil stew azifa, with its mustardy kick, or the creamy yellow-lentil stew kik alicha, as soothing as a warm plate of grits on a cold morning.