My appetite isn't enormous, but some sort of temporary gluttony comes over me when I step into an East African restaurant. It has something to do with injera, the spongy bread used as an eating utensil at Ethiopian restaurants.
Faced with unlimited bread and a huge platter of stewed meats and vegetables atop more injera, I'll say, "I'm really finished now," then tear off another morsel of bread to grab that last bite of lamb, spinach or lentils. Repeat until beyond merely full. This ritual was in effect (and not just at my table) at Blue Nile, an Ethiopian restaurant on First Hill near Seattle U.
There is nothing particularly unusual about Blue Nile as far as Ethiopian restaurants go: The food is inexpensive and comes in large portions, and the service is friendly and slow. But the food here, especially anything with chicken or lentils, is top-notch.
As for decor, it's Ethiopian tourism posters. I wonder if anyone has ever gone into an Ethiopian restaurant, looked around at the posters and embarked on a madcap family vacation.
Blue Nile has a full bar and a rotating cast of bar regulars. If you're smoke-sensitive, beware: One room is nominally nonsmoking, but smoke drifts in from the bar.
The restaurant offers a good lunch option for the solo diner who isn't up to plowing through a combination plate: The yedoro sandwich ($6) consists of stir-fried chicken with onions and chili powder served on an Italian roll. This just goes to show there's no reason to fear eating bread and meat with your hands.
Blue Nile Combo: If you're the type of person who spends ages fretting over the menu because everything sounds good, the Blue Nile Combo is for you. For less than the price of two a la carte dishes, you get to try more than half the menu. (A vegetarian combo is $9.) The menu lists an approximate roster of dishes that may appear in the combo, but results may vary. Among the highlights of our platter were:
Doro wot: This is the basic spicy stewed chicken leg served at every Ethiopian restaurant, but Blue Nile's is exceptional, with tender chicken and a sweet, dark butter- and tomato-based sauce so loaded with spices that you could eat it with a fork, if they had forks. The sauce-soaked injera underneath the doro wot may be the best part of the whole platter.
Shiro wot: This spicy ground bean stew was kind of like Ethiopian hummus in that it had the consistency of a dip or spread, which made it easy to grab with a swatch of injera.
Kik wot: "Wot," as you may have figured out by now, means "stewed," and these were stewed yellow split peas, which were relatively mild and also, unfortunately, undercooked.
Doro tibs: Another way with chicken, this time white meat stir-fried with onions and a spice mix including a heady dose of cardamom. A light contrast to the deep, dark doro wot.
Red Hook ESB: I'm not going to review Red Hook ESB, except to say that there are few cuisines that go better with beer than Ethiopian, and a middle-of-the-road bitter is the perfect mate.
Itemized bill, meal for two
Blue Nile Combo $13.50
Red Hook ESB $2.50
Mango juice $2.00
Matthew Amster-Burton: firstname.lastname@example.org