The Best Thing I Ate This Week: Tofu Kitfo, Lamb Burgers

Washingtonian’s food team shares their favorite dishes from the past seven days of dining.

The “Burger Américain” at Le Diplomate. Photograph by Anna Spiegel.

Garrett Graff

Burger Américain at Le Diplomate

I’ve heard Ann Limpert rave about the burger for months and finally tried it this week during dinner there. It was every bit as delicious as she’s said: two thin patties, melty cheese, pickles, mayo, and onions, all with a generous helping of more pommes frites than you’d ever want. I both couldn’t wait to finish it—and never wanted it to end. I have a new favorite burger in DC.

Todd Kliman

Tofu kitfo, mushroom wat, and mushroom dulet at Kitty Nebiyeloul’s house (a.k.a. home of the International Fund for Africa), Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

I’m going with a meal this time.

So many things about my dinner at my friend Kitty Nebiyeloul’s house last week were revelatory. (And a very big thank you, Kitty, for making your beautiful, soft-lit home an oasis for me, and collapsing those 7,000-plus miles in a shot.)

Kitty cooks what she calls vegan Ethiopian fusion. Take a moment to chew on that. Ethiopian cooking is built heavily upon butter and meat. You might think that to eliminate both components is to cut out the soul of the cuisine. Not at all, it turns out.

What Kitty has done is to change the delivery systems, while preserving—and in a way, asserting—the enduring foundation of these dishes: their spicing and saucing.

For instance, her dish tofu kitfo begins with a fine dice of tofu to approximate the machete-chopped texture of raw beef. She sautés the tiny white bits in olive oil and layers in the spices, including khosseret and korerema. Voilà!—all the punch of a properly spiced kitfo, but none of the heaviness.

I loved her mushroom wat, which uses shiitake mushrooms instead of the expected strips of lamb or beef. The strong, earthy taste of the mushrooms comes through clearly, but what’s even better is that there’s none of the chewiness or toughness that you tend to find in most meat-based wats, where the cheap cuts of meats often overcook in the thick, brick-red sauce. And the sauce is the thing—the heady, berbere-stoked sauce. Kitty’s is vivid, hot, and complex.

There’s one more dish from this meal I want to mention: her dulet. A mushroom dulet. Shiitakes again, this time roughly ground in a food processor. Dulet is a hard dish for many Americans to take; the liver and tripe are strong, not easily masked flavors. Kitty’s version lacks that pronounced offal funk, though shiitakes come about as close as any vegetable can. And—even more of a surprise—their ropy fibrousness pretty ingeniously approximates the texture of the tripe. I love the double kick of this dish: the insistent and warming heat of the berbere and the jab-punch of the chopped jalapeños.

Of all the many meals I ate on my travels in Ethiopia the past couple of weeks, Kitty’s was by far the most eye-opening. And the most delicious.

Ann Limpert

Lamb burger at Food Wine and Co.

As is common at so many restaurants these days, from CityZen on down to the Cheesecake Factory, the menu at this earth-toned Bethesda bistro veers in so many directions it’s hard to know where to look. For appetizers alone we had a charcuterie board laden with bresaola and other meats, salmon tartar with tzatziki, fried artichokes atop an eggy gribiche, and sweet potatoes done up with Indian-inspired tamarind and yogurt sauces. The nice thing is, chef Michael Harr is sure-handed with most of it, and the spread didn’t taste as cacophonous together as it sounds.

The best part of dinner looked to yet another part of the world for its influence: the lamb burger. It’s probably the juiciest version I’ve ever had, and what really makes it are its accents—tangy, spicy tomato-harissa jam, cooling cilantro and garlic mayo, and bright, peppery arugula. It was so delicious I barely noticed the tasty-looking red-curry mussels to the right of me and the mushroom/chèvre pizza to the left.

See also:
Previous Best Things I Ate

Ann Limpert
Executive Food Editor/Critic

Ann Limpert joined Washingtonian in late 2003. She was previously an editorial assistant at Entertainment Weekly and a cook in New York restaurant kitchens, and she is a graduate of the Institute of Culinary Education. She lives in Logan Circle.