Sunday, April 22, 2012
1310 Antioch Pike
Ethiopian food has a complex set of flavors with berbere sauce a centerpiece. Mesob Ethiopian Restaurant takes those flavors up a notch with bold use of those berbere peppers, ginger, garlic and fenugreek. Throw into that mix Ethiopian herbs and you have tongue tingling cuisine. Mesob has been open since October and have already attracted a following in the East African community.
You know there’s skill in the kitchen when the same sauce can have so many different versions- versions that truly stand apart from each other. Ethiopian food can be lackluster in the wrong hands, perhaps because of the stew-like consistency to so many of the dishes. While there may not be texture dynamics going on- Mesob makes it clear that there is plenty to be done with that arsenal of spices and herbs.
I go out on a limb and order the Mesob Kitfo on the first visit. It’s steak tartar and even at medium cooking on the menu it’s basically raw. I love tartar, but it’s one of those dishes you’re careful when ordering. There’s much that can go wrong with raw meat. Mesob is an organized, well-appointed restaurant and the 90 health department score helps as well. The kitfo is a delicious blend of meat, herbed butter sauce and hot chili (mitmita). It’s served in a bowl with house-made farmer’s cheese and gomen (collard greens). Wrap it up with the injera bread and you have a wonderful lunch. They don’t make their own injera, but it’s a quality product and perhaps a bit less sour than other versions in town (and I know some people prefer the sour).
The reconnaissance visit shows a whole page of vegetarian entrees- ten in all and still more appetizers and salads. The Veggie Eater attends for visit number two. This time I opt for the meat combo platter. It’s basically a chef’s choice of three meat dishes and a vegetable side. This day brings Minchete Abesh- a beef stew of ginger berbere sauce. It has amazing flavor. The Doro Wot is chicken in a lemon berbere for a mellower version of the sauce. The Yebeg We’t is lamb simmered in a red pepper sauce with berbere and cardamom. Each dish has unique, bold flavors. It’s a real treat.
Veggie Eater: I am always crabby on housecleaning day and especially so when I am hungry, which is how I arrived at Mesob on my first visit. My crabbiness was compounded by the fact that the only vegetarian appetizer was not available and it seemed like we were literally the last people served in the room, even though we were seated well before many others in the room. Despite this, it was well worth it. Mesob advertises itself as having many vegetarian options and I found this to be true. I opted for the Shenbra Asa We’t, which is crushed chickpea in a spicy shimmering berbere sauce. There was a reasonable amount of kick to the sauce and it was wonderful slathered on the slightly sourdough-y injera. The waitress and owner were both apologetic about our wait and seemed genuinely eager to please and have their food appreciated.
Meat Eater: This noon rush brought in 20 people all at once and that’s hard on any mom and pop restaurant. There were no service issues on my fist visit, but that was early. The décor and atmosphere are well above average and the family vibe is welcome. They clearly have some business acumen. Not only do they have a nice web site and a Facebook page, but believe it or not QR codes on the menu to scan with your smart phone. This will probably be our new go-to joint for Ethiopian food.
I paid $17 with tax and tip on my solo visit. We paid $32 on our second visit.