Recently I found myself wandering down U street, surprised to find myself standing across the street from Ben’s Chili Bowl. Somewhat confused as to how I had arrived there, I kept walking, my only guide the growling of my stomach, rumbling to the beat of an African drum. I passed by Roha, the famous Dukem and kept going with the vague notion that I should try the first dive or carry out I came across. After walking past still more prospects I found myself looking at what appeared to be a restaurant that stretched along the entire block between 12th and 11th streets. The same orange awning stretched across what turned out to be several closed/for sale spaces with Madjet Ethiopian placed squarely in
Madjet Ethiopian… the name conjured up memories of chow.com buzz I had read some months back. Apparently Madjet was a rising star within the Ethiopain restaurant community, supplanting Dukem and even Etete for the title of DC’s best east African grub. Walking in I was immediately hit with both excited music and the strong smell of burning incense from the small bar along the left side of the restaurant. The restaurant itself is very small with a small bar on the left end, a kitchen on the right and the narrow rectangular dining area in between, confined to one floor. I took a seat at the back and perused the menu. Madjet has all the usual standards, from kifto to gored gored to the usual vegetarian combination ($9.99). I chose the latter after confirming that it was indeed cooked in oil not spiced butter like most of the meat dishes. I noted that Madjet offered two Ethiopian red wines, a honey wine and a couple whites by the glass or bottle ($23.95) and one Ethiopian beer along with the usual domestics.
Barely ten minutes later my food came out on a narrow, oval platter, with a large selection of different dishes. I could immediately confirm that these dishes were cooked in oil; several of them were quite literally dripping with it. The first item I tried was the beet salad. I am not a beet fan but these were above average and were an unexpected and unadvertised addition to the combo plate. Next was what turned out to be slightly overcooked short grain brown rice. The rice had a gummy, sticky texture that was oddly appropriate next to the various stews that made up the plate and I enjoyed the change of pace and the slight nuttiness of the rice; another unexpected treat. However the meal went quickly downhill from here. The gomen was perhaps the worst preparation I’ve had. The collards had been chopped unevenly with the stalk, boiled to the point of near tastelessness and plopped on the platter. Thankfully it had been spared the oil bath but it was also bereft of any detectable flavor. The string beans/carrots/potatoes were well cooked but that was about the only thing going for them. Chopped up into small pieces, the potatoes, carrots, and beans weren’t overdone but again their flavor was muted. The misir wat, which like gomen is one of Ethiopian benchmarks, had a frontal spiciness to it but almost no actual flavor. The lentils were just a tad underdone which didn’t help either. The yellow split peas were even worse than the misir wat, having been cooked maybe twenty minutes and still retaining a very firm texture with no flavoring beyond the oil they were doused in. The tomato and jalapeño salad was nothing special, with too few jalapenos to give it any real bite and no dressing to brighten the flavor. The last dish I tried and saving grace of the meal was the Tikil Gomen, or stewed cabbage. This is a very simple dish that is hard to get wrong and Madjet executed it competently. I only wish the same could be said for the rest.
Service was typical of Ethiopian restaurants; laidback and somewhat inattentive. The servers were friendly but unless you are friends of the house, be prepared to flag down the staff for drink refills and the like.
I was really hoping to like Madjet given what I have read about it but it never measured up to even my lowest expectations. In terms of the food quality, it rates as the worst Ethiopian dining experience I have had, including my own first attempts at cooking these dishes at home. Perhaps I caught them on a bad night or perhaps they’re vegetable dishes are not their strongest suit but I would stay away and hit one of the many better restaurants in the surrounding area.
1102 U St. NW, Washington DC 20009