Thursday, April 03, 2008

The Blue Nile in Ferndale. An Ethiopian Experience

A few days back, we wanted to eat out and have some fun. I wanted to try somewhere that we hadn’t been before - after a lot of ‘no I don’t wants’ and ‘urghs’ we finally settled on The Blue Nile in Ferndale. I’ve heard about this place, even attempted to go there when it existed in Greektown quite a few years back – it was closed (I don’t even know if it exists there anymore).

All we knew about it was that it was Ethiopian, and that you eat the food with your fingers.

We got there – the place was pretty much only 1/3 full – but it was Thursday night.

Seating choice was either a booth or sitting around what looked like an upturned straw hat into which a plate full of food is placed. Having kids, and being our first time, we opted for the safer booth. Next time, we’ll sit around the hat.

Decor - Wood, with rotating upside-down umbrellas hanging from the ceiling.

The deal there is this: the menu is fixed to either a fully vegetarian or meat and vegetarian served-up buffet – that is, they load a large round plate with food, put it onto your table (or hat), and you all have at it. The waiters will drop by to serve you more of anything you finish on there and want more of.

We opted for the meat and veggie as we figured the kids might not be too big on the lentils and cabbage.

The first stage of the meal was the hand washing – the waiter came out with steaming hot hand towels, which we used to wash out utensils, i.e. our hands. Next came the large plate, about 18 inches across, which had a layer of Ethiopian flat bread on it, topped with about 6 or 7 different piles of veggie foods – cold lentils, spicy lentil paste, a spicy vegetable curry, collard greens with onions and chillis (Gomen(, cabbage (Tekki Gomen), and spicy split peas. Then the bread arrived – I’ve since learned how this stuff is made - it’s pretty simple, flour, water, salt and oil. The Ethiopians use teff flour – I’m not sure if this is what they use in Ferndale – either way, the bread in simple and nice.

The 4 meat dishes then arrived – Doro Wat – which is chicken in herbed butter, and Berbere sauce (which, co-incidentally, was described Saveur the day after we went – complete with recipe), Doro Aleche, which is the chicken in herbed butter without the other stuff, slightly spiced lamb cooked, in my opinion, to perfection, and Zilzil Wat – lumps of tender beef in a sauce that resembled madras curry. All 4 meats were dropped onto the bread, and we were ready to go.

The bread, we learned, is used to eat the other foods. You tear a little bit off and use it to punch up bit of food. This the kids loved – we normally let them know about it if they used their fingers. Not here.

Overall, the food was delicious – there was nothing wrong with anything. The veggie dishes were really flavorful; the meat was spiced just right and as tender as you could ask for.

The service was really good, attentive, and friendly. Heck, they kept coming over and offering us more food – remember it’s an eat as much as you can deal. We tried…

A tip for future visits – take it easy on the bread as it’s really filling. The not bread is where the flavor adventure is – so it’s worth only using a tiny bit and enjoying everything else fully.

Drinks: My wife had a glass of Ethiopian Honey Wine – apparently interesting and very nice. Me being me had beer – a Heineken. Therein was my only gripe about the place – a very poor beer selection. Being that the place is way out there in a culinary sense, I kinda hoped that I might find some way-out there beers. There are a few interesting Ethiopian beers – but none served here.

Prices were about $18 per adult and $9 per child. Given it was an endless feast of good food – it was worth it and definitely recommended.

And the bathrooms are like a continental trip back in time…

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