Sometimes I feel tired after a long day at work or school, unable to face the prospect of another hour or more at the stove trying to create a delicious, plant based meal. Typically I soldier on, reverting to a repertoire of tried and true dishes that while simple never fail to please. I wish the same could be said for Abiti Ethiopian restaurant on 9th street’s Ethiopian row. The restaurant, the wait staff, and the food feel tired and unfortunately neither the quality or the value make up for it.
Abiti occupies a narrow storefront, with the majority of the restaurant stretching back from the main street and a small bar nestled in the far right corner. The relatively modest exterior belies a pleasant interior painted in a warm orange/peach hue with pictures and African crafts lining the walls. A messob greets patrons near the door but the tables here are standard and rather small, about 10 or so in all. When I walked in the restaurant was empty save for the two female servers who quickly got up to seat me and bring the menu. The menu has the usual suspects you’ll find at any Ethiopian restaurant though it was somewhat cluttered with meat entrees somehow slipping into the vegetarian section. I was happy to see that Abiti advertised a green split pea shiro on the vegetarian menu and after making sure all the vegetarian entrees were vegan, went ahead and ordered the vegetarian combination ($12.50).
The first sign of trouble was the sound of a microwave being turned on shortly after my order was placed. I can’t know for sure what was going on but the correlation suggested that the food was not as fresh as I would have liked. About ten minutes later the bell in the kitchen rang and now the lone waitress brought out my platter and injera. I immediately noted the rather small portion size especially given the price. Nearby Queen Makeda serves almost twice the amount of food for five dollars less. The first dish I tried was the beet salad. As I have written previously, beets are not my favorite vegetable and as such I am hard pressed to judge what is a good preparation. These however were quite tasty with an almost sweet taste and soft though not mushy texture. Off to a good start I tried the carrots and green beans dish next. This was somewhat depressing visually as I could see that the carrots were bagged baby carrots that had been halved vertically, not the irregular but more interesting chunks I usually see. I could have made the same determination from the taste as well; the carrots tasted like they had just come from a bag at Safeway. Moving on I tried the gomen. Besides the paltry amount that was on the platter, this was an above average preparation of collard greens stewed with garlic. While most of the dishes were not oily at all, the greens had been doused quite liberally which added nothing to the flavor; the garlic similiarly did little to liven up the competenly cooked greens. Moving counter clockwise around the platter, I next tried the yellow split peas. These had a perfect texture and tasted fresh though they were fairly uninteresting and suffered as the temperature of the dish dropped. That is one of the benefits of the preparations of this and other dishes that use spices and aromatics; they retain more flavor, longer, allowing one to linger over the food. Salad came next and thankfully the cooks at Abiti understand the nuisance of large chunks of tomatoes and lettuce. The salad was simple, consisting of tomatoes, jalapeños and a few bits of onion dressed with a scant amount of vinaigrette. Unfortunately while the size was right, the salad revealed still more laziness on the part of the kitchen. Instead of deseeding the jalapeño it had been chopped up whole with one section near the top of the pepper literally bursting with seeds. Needless to say biting into this was a rather unpleasant surprise. Last on the perimeter of the platter was a carrot and potato dish with half a jalapeno left to mingle with the large rectangular cuts of potato. The dish was underwhelming, the bad taste of the carrots again dominating whatever flavoring the dish may have once had. Last but definitely not least was the misir wat. This was fantastic, a symphony of flavors on the tongue and with just a little heat to back it up. It ranks with Zed’s as being the best misir wat I have ever had.
Service throughout was great for Ethiopian standards. The waitress refilled my water glass without prompting, paid attention to the front of the house in between perusing the paper, and seemed friendly. I wish someone could inspire the kitchen to take the food more seriously but perhaps the ample local competition will do so in time. As of now I can’t recommend it when there are so many great restaurants within easy walking distance, serving better food for less money.
Abiti Ethiopian Restaurant
1909 9th St NW, Washington DC 20001