Whether you’re fretting about where to take that cutie you’ve been crushing on in chem for a casual coffee date or looking for a romantic anniversary dinner locale, we’ve got all the details here in our weekly column. We hope you enjoy reading about these delicious date destinations as much as we enjoy writing about them and that you’ll give some of them a taste.
In the spirit of our first selection, Melkam Megeb! (Or for all of you non-Ahmeric speakers, Bon Appetit!)
Restaurant: Addis Abeba
Address: 1322 Chicago Ave., Evanston
Hours: Sun-Thurs noon-9:30 p.m., Fri-Sat noon-10 p.m.
Getting there: a 10-15 minute walk south from the Arch
A pleasant Ethiopian restaurant, Addis Abeba offers a wide variety of traditional fare. It is located far enough outside of the downtown Evanston bubble that it escapes the standard college vibe while still being comfortably close to South Campus. No Wildcard discounts here, but your taste buds will thank you for venturing afield.
While I wouldn’t exactly call myself a raw food connoisseur, I can highly recommend Addis Abeba’s Kitfo (Ethiopian steak tartar). The meat was seasoned with olive oil and garlic which is, as far as I’m concerned, always a good combination. As an entrée, I had the Doro Wot, a spiced chicken reminiscent of tandoori. I say reminiscent of tandoori, but there’s no easy way to describe the Ethiopian staple of spices: it creates a sort of gentle warmth in the back of your throat that builds slowly the more you eat. My only complaint was that the sampler plate (which Sarah and I split in order to cover the maximum number of dishes) only came with one chicken leg, though in the case of a full order, I’m sure this would be a non-issue. That brings me to food portions: the appetizer was big enough to easily be split among four people and the sampler plate - which consisted of three entrées and a salad - was enough for a very hungry couple.
The wait staff is solidly average. While not exactly service with a smile, the food more than compensated for the somewhat somber service. We got our meal quickly enough, though the restaurant wasn’t crowded when we ate. I can’t really vouch for service on busier nights.
Addis Abeba has a pleasant feel: decorative screens depict scenes of Colonial Ethiopian life in front of the windows, backlit by natural light while soft music plays over the PA. While the lack of utensils may be a challenging concept for some, plenty of spongy flatbread - which doubles as edible silverware and edible napkin - is provided, and the gauntlet of eating with your hands only adds to the experience.
Date Factor (4/5)
While Addis Abeba may not be first date material, I think it would be a great place to spend the evening as an established couple or with a group of friends. There’s nothing inherently wrong with Addis as a first-date place, I only worry that the level of bonding over shared plates and saucy finger food could easily become uncomfortably high. On another note, picky eaters needn’t fret: there are a number of good options for less adventurous eaters out there for whom Ethiopian cuisine might seem a bit too much.
After sharing the Kitfo with John as an appetizer, I had the Yebeg Alitcha, a cubed lamb dish infused with a delightful mix of curry-ish spices, coupled with Fosolia (a vegetable medley) and an Ethiopian salad. I had the option to order the Yebeg Alitcha mild or spicy; I chose to order it mild both for a contrast to John’s entrée and just in case I couldn’t handle the heat. In retrospect, I highly suggest ordering entrées spicy. The lamb was delicious, but its seasoning paled in comparison to the Doro Wot. Ethiopian heat is a subtle and building spice rooted in cardamom, so don’t be intimidated to venture outside of your normal spice level. The Fosolia did not look promising but, to my surprise, was a favorite part of the meal for me. The standard lettuce and tomato salad provided a lighter contrast to the rest of the meal.
The waitstaff did not seem terribly attentive, but our waitress did faithfully keep our water glasses filled. Considering the size of the crowd during our meal, I found the wait for the food to be a little on the long side. We were not checked on regularly, but this allowed for uninterrupted conversation and a focus on the food.
Colonial-style paintings decorate the walls and windows of this smaller restaurant. The tablecloths and booth cushions provide a truly cultural feel, and the restaurant is kept very clean despite the fact that eating utensils are not available.
Date Factor (3.5/5)
This is definitely not a first date place. Since diners must use their hands and traditional Ethiopian bread to scoop food into their mouths, traditional table manners tend to lose their ground. Even so, my dining experience was significantly less messy than expected (especially because of the hand wipes provided with your check). Portions are very split-able - double dates here would be fabulous. Addis Abeba is a fun and unique place to eat dinner with your sweetheart.
Although a bit above our usual price range, Addis Abeba is worth the occasional splurge. The bill and tip total about $12 to $15 per person, so be aware that the question of splitting the check or splitting the food may arise. When looking for a special and memorable dining experience, consider venturing off the beaten (and often bland) path. An exotic and special evening spent at Addis Abeba with your honey is a breath of fresh air when compared to the standard dinner date.
Feel free to leave us a comment sharing your experiences at this restaurant or if you have any suggestions for our next Table for Two.