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Ethiopian veggie sampler showdown [Oakland/Berkeley]


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Ethiopian veggie sampler showdown [Oakland/Berkeley]

hyperbowler | Dec 17, 2012 12:10 AM

As takeout a few nights back, seven friends and I compared the vegetarian samplers from eight Ethiopian places in Oakland/Berkeley. It was hardly a scientific or particularly well-informed endeavor, but lots of fun:

1. All places except Ensarro were roughly along a 1.5 mile stretch of Telegraph. I asked for the food to be spicy and for them to give us the injera with the highest amount of teff possible. The restaurants and their respective injeras were:

= Injera with lots of teff =
Ahadu: dark, lots of if not completely teff
Asmara: dark, lots of if not completely teff
Cafe Colucci: 100% teff
Ensarro: 90% teff

= Injera with light amount, if any, of teff =
Red Sea
Ethiopia Restaurant (you can special order teff injera a day in advance)

At least with these vegetarian dishes, we all seemed to like the teff-heavy injeras. I've forgotten which, but one of the teff-light injeras was far more sour than the other seven.

2. Flexibility of menu: 7/8 places had a set vegetarian combo. Abesha allows you to pick 5/7 vegetarian dishes and we picked the ones that best matched the other restaurants (plus, I don't like their mushroom wot).

3. Dark red hot sauces served in a separate container (only two places):
Ethiopia Restaurant's had an overpowering presence of cardamom
Addis' was a bit gritty, but had a nice flavor and kick.

We each rated the three dishes common to all 8 restaurants: kik-alicha (split peas), gomen (collard greens), and mesir wot (red lentils). Summing our ratings, we found:

4. Kik-alicha: Ensarro's had a bright, fresh, spicing and took the lead. Cafe Colucci and Addis were runners up. Ahadu's was in last place.
5. Gomen: Ensarro's was the best, and was the only one that still had crunch. Cafe Colucci and Ethiopia Restaurant were runners up. Abesha's was the most overcooked and in last place.
6. Messir Wot: three way tie between Ensarro, Abesha, and Cafe Colucci. Some criticized Cafe Colucci's spicing for being too raw. Others preferred it for that same reason.

7. Tumeric colored dishes containing cabbage, potato, and/or carrot (atakilt, alicha denich, or tekil gomen): Chunks were too coarse to permit fair voting across 8 people. The cabbage portion of Ensarro's Atakilt was my favorite, and was the only one to really bring out the cabbage's natural flavor.

8. Other standout dishes:
Red Sea: their silssi was a delicious spicy red dish with onions and green chiles
Ethiopia restaurant: listed as carrots and zucchini, but maybe something completely difference, they extracted a massive amount of sweetness from whatever orange thing was there.

9. Cheese: From memory, Ensarro, Ahadu, & Colucci, perhaps others, included a spreadable cheese. When I've dined at Addis, they've included a somewhat crumbly cheese, but I don't recall whether it was present in the takeout.

10. Conclusions:
Top-tier: Ensarro & Colucci. Aside from having great core dishes, both samplers had fresh cheese and excellent injera.
Mid-tier: Ethiopia Restaurant & Addis. A few of their dishes were described as lemony.
Lower tier: Red Sea, Asmara, Ahadu, Abesha

Sometime next year, we plan to compare the remaining eight Ethiopian places in the area: Finfine, Sheba Dining, Messob, Shashamane, Yayu, Cafe Romanat, MLK Cafe, & Cafe Eritrea d'Afrique (Eritrean, but some similar dishes). Ensarro & Colucci have been my top picks since moving to the Bay Area, so it would be nice to see if something else competitive emerges.

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