So, for the Mrs. birthday, I decided on an informal but different outing: Ethiopian food and experimental theater: Wordplay(s) at the Heartland Studio Theater (two short plays: "The Society for Lost Positives" by Melanie Tem and "Gertrude Stein Cubed" based on works of Stein performed by three actresses simultaneously -- fun and interesting but probably not everybody's taste).
Ras Dashen, recommended on the infamous Tip Sheet was a lot of fun. We haven't had Ethiopian for close to 20 years, at Mama Desta's (is it still there?). Ras Dashen is even better than I remembered Ethiopian food to be.
For starters, the sambusas are similar in concept to an indian samosa (hence the etymology), but a thinner shell (something eggroll-like, I think), surrounding fiery ground beef (spinach and lentils are other options), cooled by a garlicky yoghurt dipping sauce. Absolutely wonderful -- should have ordered several plates of these.
All entrees are served on a common tray covered with a huge round piece of injera, the spongy sour pancake-like flatbread. It's kind of surprising to see the servers bring out the entrees in bowls and then dump them onto the bread! The only real downside is that the flavorful sauces are absorbed by the injera, which is tough to get at until the end of the meal when it's falling apart and getting cold.
We had the Doro Wat (chicken and egg in spicy sauce), and Lamb Tibs Berbere. The 1/4 chicken was very spicy, on the bone, and soft enough to pull off with a piece of injera in your hands, and accompanied by a hard-boiled egg simmered in the same sauce.
The Lamb Tibs Berbere was listed as the spicier, juicier version of Tibs, but I was somewhat disappointed. The portion was relatively small, when you account for the amount of bone and tough connective tissue. It was tasty, but nowhere near the level of the Doro Wat.
Each table/tray is accompanied by three side dishes from a choice of 12. We had fresh cheese (snow white and crumbly and creamy -- a good foil for the heat), a lentil salad that had a lot of garlic, and a tomato and onion salad (we're not sure it's the one we ordered, but it was very good).
Iced and hot teas are infused with clove and cardamom, a little astringent, but wonderful with a little sugar.
Service was a little slow: I think we got there during the initial dinner rush, and the kitchen had trouble keeping caught up. We made the theater, but just barely.
Prices are very reasonable, about $9-15 for each entree with sides. You certainly won't go hungry with the injera you eat picking up the food, we were stuffed. So I strongly recommend this place, although the Lamb Timbs Berbere might be something to skip.