A few months ago, a friend told me about a unique experience he had eating Ethiopian food. My curiosity was piqued. What was I missing? I decided then and there I would venture out and experience Ethiopian cuisine. If I was going to try a new ethnic cuisine, I figured I should start off with the best. After a quick search on Google, I found some reviews and the consensus seemed to be that Ras Dashen was the best Ethiopian place in Chicago. I hopped on Groupon and called up a friend.
We decided to go on a Saturday night. Ras Dashen is a short walk from the Red Line Thorndale station. Walking into the restaurant, my senses were immediately overwhelmed. The walls were covered with paintings, the first one that caught my eye depicted a Walia Ibex, a species of endangered Ethiopian goats. The aroma of the food filled the restaurant and the sound of individual conversations merged into something that resembled music. All of these factors combined to make Ras Dashen’s atmosphere more authentic and nostalgic, and less themed and commercial.
Of course there was a line to get a table. We arrived around 7 p.m. All the tables were full and I had not made a reservation. After a 15 minute wait, we were seated. Unfortunately, the traditional straw tables were taken. We ordered our food and we were told that Groupons were not accepted on a Saturday night. Lesson learned.
Unbound by the terms of the Groupon, we decided to peruse the menu, which had extensive vegetarian options. However, we ended up ordering two meat entrees and three sides. For our entrees, we chose the doro wat and lebleb tibs, spicy chicken stew and beef stew respectively. The three sides we chose were: gomen and ayib, which are cooked kale and cheese, and diblik atkilt which is a vegetable stew of sorts with green beans, potatoes, carrots and zucchini.
The server brought out what looked like a porous pancake called injera and proceeded to dump bowls of food onto it. The server also gave us a basket of three pieces of injera that resembled folded crepes. I picked it up and tasted it, it had the consistency of a sponge and the taste of sourdough bread. I then tried the doro wat. The spices in the thick sauce were intense and flavorful, and the tender chicken was easy to eat by picking it off of the bone with the injera. My friend enjoyed the lebleb tibs. The gomen was stripped of its bitterness and instead had an earthy taste. The ayib cheese was soft and sweet. The different, complex flavors and the unique technique involved in eating the meal made it one of the most enjoyable meals I have ever had.
Even though the meal was great, I believe the restaurant seemed to be a victim of its own success. The staff seemed to be overwhelmed; I had to ask for a napkin four times. Also, while I was in line, I noticed the staff not honor a reservation. Seemingly a beginner mistake, this restaurant was too established for oversights such as this. With the great food, and lack of adequete service, the question arises: would I go back? Of course. I’ll wait in line for injera in a heartbeat.