Mack tolerates my slight fixation with killing several birds with one stone. Borne out of my reliance on public transportation and walking as my main modes of travel, I do my best to make the most of my trips to areas of the city outside of my usual commute.
Following our jaunt to Seedy Sunday at the Alberta Avenue Community Hall, Mack didn’t flinch when I said there would be a planned stop at the nearby Habesha for lunch. I had read a review last year in the Journal about this new restaurant, and Liane Faulder has made mention of it several times over the last few months (Habesha now offers a vegetarian/vegan buffet on Wednesday nights). Though I’ve sampled Ethiopian and Eritrean cuisine before (at the Heritage Festival, for example), I’ve never before had a sit-down meal, so was eager to be exposed to a greater variety of food.
The interior of Habesha was larger than we expected from our external assessment. A long room was divided into a reception/coffee ceremony area, a second section dominated by the bar, and a third area functioned as the main dining room populated with a few tables. For a restaurant with many windows, the interior was surprisingly dim, so I was glad that our self-directed table hugged a window, with the option of being enclosed by a curtain fashioned on a curved bar that reminded me of a shower rod. There were two other parties present – and both embodied the relaxed, comfortable vibe of a restaurant that invited diners to stay awhile.
Mack looking relaxed and comfortable, and Twittering, of course
The owner (and sole waitress) brought us glasses of water and menus. We looked over the pages, divided into vegetarian, chicken and beef sections, and didn’t know where to begin. When she returned to take our order, we asked for her recommendations. She pointed us to the “combination” plates ($14.99 per person), and we decided to sample one beef and one vegetarian combination.
We weren’t sure how long our food would take, as it wasn’t clear whether or not our lone server was also the restaurant’s lone staff member, but thankfully, our dish arrived not too long after our order was placed. A circular platter lined with injera and dotted with multicolored meat, lentil and vegetable dishes was placed before us, accompanied by another small basket of injera. The soft, spongy bread is the main utensil in Ethiopian/Eritrean cuisine (similar in use to Indian chapatti), and explained the lack of forks and knives on our table.
Combination beef and vegetarian plate for two
Having tried injera several times now, I have to say I’m still not used to the sour taste of the bread, or to the fact that it is served cold. On the other hand, I immensely enjoyed the dishes themselves – the shiro wat (sun dried peas) were fantastic, with just a hint of spice, but so satisfying, and the fosolia – string bean and carrot mixture – was simple yet tasty. Mack liked the kei wot (prime beef stewed in spicy red sauce), though I know we both found most of the cubed meat rather tough. The spice level varied in the dishes (for example, the red lentil misser wot packed much more zing than the mellower yellow version), so the entire sample provided a nice spectrum of heat. In all, we found the combination plate was a great way to sample over ten different dishes, and with such a large portion size, ended up with enough food to take for lunch the next day.
When our server came back to check on us, she was taken aback by the food that remained. I couldn’t tell if she took the quantity of leftovers personally, but she mock-threatened not to pack it up for us unless we promised to eat it all. We did, but her guilt really wasn’t necessary, and left our experience a bit off because we hadn’t developed the necessary rapport for that kind of exchange.
Regardless of our end note, I would recommend Habesha as a good venue to experiment with Ethiopian/Eritrean cuisine, and like The Dawg Father before it, I am glad that there is one more restaurant to add to the “destination Alberta Avenue” list.
9511 118 Avenue NW
Monday-Thursday 4-10pm, Friday 4pm-2am, Saturday 12pm-2am, Sunday 12-11pm