Since were moving from Rockridge to Millbrae in a week and a half, my boyfriend and I are trying to visit all our old favorites before the move. Last night we visited Blue Nile for the first time in a few years. About 10 years ago, Blue Nile was the only Ethiopian restaurant I had ever been to, and at one time I declared it my favorite restaurant. My boyfriend once ate there 4 times in a week and a half.
Blue Nile is a good place to go with anyone trying Ethiopian food for the first time. Its sort of a white bread (literally as you will see in the following paragraph) Ethiopian restaurant (in fact the only Ethiopian spotted in the whole place was the owner). Its like the Erics of Chinese food (and I like Erics). Its not quite comparing apples to oranges, but maybe apples to pears.
Blue Nile provides a lot of contrast to all other Ethiopian restaurants I have tried the most notable contrast is in the injera. Here it is white and not sour tasting at all unlike the injera at every other Ethiopian restaurant Ive been to. (Its also available in unlimited quantities now which it used to not be.) I asked our server about the injera and she told me they made their bread from barley instead of teff. Its a matter of taste which version of injera you prefer. My boyfriend likes Blue Niles injera (he said it tastes like a pancake), while I think I slighly prefer Blue Niles to the usual rendition.
The menu at Blue Nile is unintentionally hilarious to read. The descriptions for each dish are unnecessarily long including such bizarre filler as Just say Doro! and The taste is strictly Ethiopian. At Blue Nile you can order items or individually, but almost everyone I know orders the Super Combination for $12.95 which includes three meat dishes and basically eliminates the need to eat family style. There are also veggie items available, but not in the Super Combo. The prices have gone up substantially over the years and are now higher than any other Ethiopian restaurant Ive been to.
My Combo included (#2) Doro Wat (a chicken leg in sauce), (#4) Ye Siga Alecha (curried beef stew), and (#5) Ye Doro Tibs (chicken strips). These dishes were markedly different than other Ethiopian restaurants. First of all, they were sort of uniformly bland; however, scooping up a lot of sauce improved them immensely (though the flavors still werent as bright as at say, Zeni). The Doro Wat sauce traditionally has a red pepper component to it. This one lacked that but I actually prefer Blue Niles version. The chicken itself, however, appeared to be a bit dried out. I remember liking Ye Siga Alecha the most of the three beef dishes from previous visits, but I liked my boyfriends (#1) Ye Siga Tibs more (he declared this his favorite item in his combo). My Ye Doro Tibs suffered in comparision to versions Ive had at Abyssinia and Zeni, and doesnt include the traditional accompaniments of onions and tomato found at other restaurants.
The combo plate includes salad, rice, and carrots and green beans (a pretty white bread veggie side as Ethiopian food goes). Ive never had rice at other Ethiopian places but I like the addition of it to my meal, although theirs was a bit buttery.
Our service in the past at Blue Nile was pretty abyssimal, but we couldnt have been happier last night. Our server and the owner were very cordial and the food arrived right away. The ambiance is perhaps the best of the Ethiopian restaurants Ive been to with lots of beaded bamboo curtains and a two story dining area. There are many travel posters of Ethiopia on display including one of a bare breasted woman. Im not really sure why Im mentioning this now, except that it was much noted in our college days.
Despite it not being as traditionally authentic as other Ethiopian restaurants out there, I might incur the wrath of Chowhounders for saying this, but I still very much like Blue Nile enough to rank it my favorite in the East Bay.
But its still no Zeni.
So, I like Blue Nile more but Im not recommending it. I think that people who are used to more authentic Ethiopian food wouldnt like Blue Nile.
2525 Telegraph Ave
Berkeley, CA 94704-2917
Phone: (510) 540-6777
(But I'm not recommending it so don't use this information! :)
1) Zeni, San Jose
2) Blue Nile, Berkeley
3) Abyssinia, Oakland
4) Finfine, Berkeley
5) Café Colucci, Oakland
6) Ethiopia, Berkeley
7) Red Sea, Oakland
8) Asmara, Oakland ? (I cant remember where I ranked this before)