This past week (01.17-01.22) was “Restaurant Week” where we are. Basically, a lot of the restaurants downtown (which are normally priced higher than a student’s budget) offer meals for a little cheaper than normal.

A lot of places offer lunch for $12, and some places had a “2 for 1” deal.  My friends and I went to “Blue Nile“, an Ethiopian restaurant that had the “2 for 1” deal. It was a competition between Seva’s, a vegetarian/vegan place, and Blue Nile, and honestly, I’m glad Blue Nile won out.

The staff were very friendly. Being the camera foodie that I am, I asked if we could move to a seat by the window so I could get better shots of the food. The host immediately said, “Sure, sure! That’s no problem at all!”

On the 2-for-1 $12 menu, there were four items. My roommates, friend, and I ended up getting two different dishes, the ZilZil Wat and Yedoro Tibs, with different vegetable sides as well as a cup of spiced Ethiopian tea. Our tea arrived first.

We were intrigued by the tea because of its very complicated description. The menu described it as “a unique drinking experience: in the Ethiopian diet, there is no cane sugar.  However, the tea is both sweet and light!  The reason is because of its natural ingredients, including rose hips, cinnamon, orange and lemon peels, cloves, and chamomile.  Spiced Ethiopian Tea is all-natural, tasty, refreshing, and good for you!”

Of course, my friends and I couldn’t help but be tempted by the sheer amount of spices in the tea. When it arrived, we were rather surprised by how spicy it actually was. However, it wasn’t the type of spiciness that sets your mouth on fire but the type that actually warms your body. I was initially a bit worried because after a waft of the tea, I was rather put off by the amount of sweetness I smelled in it. But after a few sips, I (literally) warmed up to it. To offset its sweetness, I copied my roommate and added some ice cubes from our water. Because the flavor was so concentrated to begin with, there was no flavor lost and the tea seemed to actually taste better as a cool drink than a warm one.

Our food arrived rather quickly after our waitress brought us hot towels to wipe our hands with. I suppose I shouldn’t complain since we arrived right before the end of the lunch period at around 14:30, but the food was rather lukewarm instead of hot. Even if I know that restaurants tend to cook in bulk and just ladle the portions on, I might wish that it was heated up a bit more.

First off, two of our group ordered the Yedoro Tibs, described as “Chicken breasts marinated overnight in fresh herbs, olive oil, garlic, shallots and cilantro. Grilled to perfection and served with choice of rice and vegetables.”

It was certainly grilled very well. I’m always hesitant to eat chicken breasts at restaurants out of the worry that it’s been dried out/overcooked, but that wasn’t the case with Yedoro Tibs. Even after grilling, the chicken was still nice and moist. Since I’ve never eaten this before, I was wondering if I was supposed to be tasting more of the herbs that it was marinated in. I could definitely taste that it had been marinated in something, but it might have been nice to taste more of the spices as well since they seemed to be a bit lacking in this particular plate. Overall, a relatively positive first impression of Ethiopian food.

And moving on to the ZilZil Wat, a dish consisting of “choice lean beef is gradually simmered in tangy berbere, onions and purified herbed butter served with two vegetables of the day and injera, bread”.

(Sorry for the bad focus!)

This was also a fairly nice dish, however, it’s also one of those dishes where I felt that it would have been so much more amazing if it had just been hotter. We (the ones who officially ordered ZilZil Wat) were given sides of more injera bread. Unfortunately, injera bread is the type of food that loses its heat easily, so it made the lukewarm food even cooler.

This was made up for by the flavor of the food though. The ZilZil Wat is definitely a much more flavorful dish that complements the simplicity of the injera bread very well. It was just slightly spicy enough to make up for the simpler taste of the injera bread.

I also enjoyed the vegetable sides, one of which was gomen, “chopped collard greens cooked with onions, garlic, jalapeno peppers, and spices” and the other, which was defen yemisir alecha, “Lentils harmoniously blended with onions, spices, and herbs.” I’m the type that could go without lentils, but I tried it and thought it was rather enjoyable. The collard greens side was wonderful though. Because the ZilZil Wat is intense in flavor, the slight bitterness from the collard greens also offset the spices a bit to give the person eating a bit of a “break”.

Overall, Blue Nile was a fairly positive dining experience. The only thing I might be miffed about was the cost of about $2 for a small cup of tea…will avoid that in the future, but the dishes themselves were relatively satisfying and the nice service also provided a nice atmosphere for casual diners.