I wrote this up for the "Moving to Oakland. Where to eat?" thread. But it was so long, I thought it might be better split off separately. We've been eating Ethiopian/Eritrean food since it first appeared in the Bay Area, and Asmara was our stand-by when we moved to the East Bay. Regrettably, Asmara changed hands and the food slipped drastically downwards. So we're working our way slowly around some of the other Eth/Erit restaurants, although we still have half a dozen more to go!
These were the specific differences between Cafe Eritrea and Red Sea my spouse and I saw in our meals (two at Eritrea, one at Red Sea).
- Generous with the meat but skimpy with the veggies, which is very odd
- Shiro, chickpea puree, is sensational
- Zigne, beef stew, also wonderful
- Doro alicha, chicken curry, excellent
- Wonderful honey-milk-fruit smoothes to drink
- "Queen of Sheba" meat platter – skip it. No seasoning, no sauce, grossly overcooked. My meat-loving spouse was very unhappy.
- They DO NOT seem to 'dumb down' their chile levels for newcomers. We appreciate that, because we like it seriously hot.
Red Sea pros/cons:
- Service is sslllllllooooowwwww. At least during lunchtime! If you want to get out in 1/2 hr, do the buffet.
- The buffet is a bargain at $6.99. But you won't know what you're eating, because there's no signs and the waitress will just tell you, "Oh, that's chicken (or lamb, or beef)." The trick is, ask her what number it is on the menu. THEN you'll know.
- Bamiya, the okra-potato in a mild red pepper sauce, is great for okra lovers like us. We so rarely find okra anywhere except soul food restaurants, it's a real treat.
- Tumtumo: yellow lentils in turmeric sauce with garlic and ginger – very good, better than the Birsin Yemisir Wot: stewed red lentils.
- Hamli Gomen: braised collard greens. I liked Red Sea's version better than Eritrea's.
- Alitcha Dinish: potatoes sautéed in turmeric sauce. Terrible. Bland and boring. One of the worst renditions of this dish I've ever had - and normally it's one of my favorites.
- Sebhi Dorho, a hot curry with a chicken drumstick. Sensational! The chile oil saturated the injera it sat on, and was yummy. The sauce had the tang of honey wine vinegar.
- Lamb alicha, a mild curry with the meat in small dice. Spouse liked Red Sea's lamb alicha much better than Eritrea's chicken version. You can't go wrong with either, though.
- Zigne, a spicy beef stew. Good, but Eritrea does this better. Red Sea's Sebhi Dorho was spicier and much better.
- two small mixed green salads with sliced tomatoes, no dressing. Minus for Red Sea. Eritrea's standard salad of shredded romaine with a tart vinaigrette goes much better with the spiced braises and injera.
Summary: Eritrea's better overall, a little less greasy. But certain dishes Red Sea does very well, and at lunchtime, that buffet is remarkable. You are getting the same food that we paid twice as much for, ordering off the menu.