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Thursday, April 19, 2012

An Orlando outing, Part 2: Nile Ethiopian Cuisine

I recently posted about the Ravenous Pig, a fantastic gastropub in Orlando.  During the same trip, I found another gem that I'd like to share for locals and those visiting. 
     Ethiopian food is quite unlike anything else that I'm accustomed too.  Back when I was in undergrad, I vaguely remember sampling some cuisine from a local restaurant that has since gone out of business.  My only recollection of the experience was that it seemed exotic and it was spicy.  Fast forward to the present and a soujourn in Orlando.  Presented with the opportunity to give a full Ethiopian meal a shot, I was powerless to resist.
     I won't claim to be an expert on the subject, and I have little grounds for comparison, but Nile Ethiopian Cuisine is absolutely exceptional.  The restaurant itself is located in a strip mall just off the tourist-trap laden International Drive.  Coming inside you'll find a warm and vibrant environment, with several more private rooms off to the left.  If you choose one of these, they're traditionally furnished with divans and wicker, hourglass-shaped tables.  In Ethiopian cuisine "injera" is a staple, kind of like a cross between a chewy crepe and a bubbling pancake disc before it's flipped.  Made from "teff," a fine grain unique to Ethiopia, they provide a nice vessel to enjoy an assortment of meats and fillings, and they allow for sharing.  The friendly waitress helpfully explained the traditional way of eating, which is really just as straightforward as tearing some injera off with your hands, and using it to scoop up the selected dish.  If you know what you want you can choose an individual plate, but if you're not alone I'd suggest opting for one of their combination platters for maximal enjoyment.  As an added bonus they've even got a full vegetarian option, so your meat eating friends need not be left out.
    We began with the Azifa, an appetizer consisting of lentils, onion, green pepper, and lemon juice, mixed with Ethiopian mustard.  Bold and tangy, with a touch of pungent acidity from the lemons, it was spectacularly delicious.

     For the entree we decided to get the Mucow special which was a combination platter of Beef Key Wat, Alicha, Split Peas (Kik), Collard Greens (Gomen), Cubed Beef (Tibs), and a simple greens and tomato salad.  In addition, the platter came with two glasses of honey wine (Tej), an intoxicating drink that kind of reminded me of orange juice, champagne, and elderflower.  Served in round-bottomed beakers that looked like they were stolen from a chemistry lab, by itself the Tej erred on cloying, but it provided the perfect refreshment along with the savory edibles. 
     Of the three kinds of meat, all were tender, flavorful, and well balanced.  They don't describe exactly what spices they use, nor what is in the special sauces, so I can only offer vague speculation.  One definitely stood out as the spicier choice (I'm guessing it was the red pepper sauce of the Beef Key Wat), which had some kick, yet was not unbearable.  Among the other two, the beef with green peppers and onions (I'm thinking this was the Tibs) reminded me of the filling you would find in Mexican fajitas.  Finally, my favorite of the three was what I assume (by process of elimination) was the Alicha, which tasted like some kind of creamy, slightly sweet, coconutty/buttery beef, rendered even more succulent by their special sauce.
      The collard greens were exactly like the kind you could find at any quality Southern-style restaurant, slightly bitter and moist.  The Kik, which originally didn't appeal to me very much, turned out to be my absolute, I can't-get-enough, hands down top choice.  A smooth, mild pile of yellow looking glop, it was divine!  I'm not quite sure how it was prepared, but I tasted hints of turmeric, ginger and garlic.  We managed to finish our first batch of injera pretty quickly, and wonderfully, our attentive waitress brought us more without any prompting!
   Before leaving we got some coffee, which was lovingly prepared to order and served tableside.  I didn't try any but my dining partner assured me it was strong and aromatic.
      The unique gamut of flavors and spices was unlike anything else I've had.  While I'm sure you can request hotter choices, I really appreciated that nothing we got was intolerable.  I was surprised by how many families we saw dining around us...who says that kids are picky?  I guess given the opportunity to forgo silverware and use their hands, children will jump in.  Accordingly, I'd highly recommend making this a stop for any occasion.  Fun for all ages and spectacularly delectable to boot!  Wash your hands and dig in (literally)!

 Nile Ethiopian Cuisine
7040 International Drive  Orlando, FL 32819
(407) 354-0026
www.nile07.com
Nile Ethiopian Restaurant on Urbanspoon

2 comments:

Y'all Taste This said...

Wow! This sounds amazing. I'm excited for next weekend's Ethiopian dinner.

SteffiJill said...

It is fantastic! Such a shame that Sheba closed in Miami. Looking forward to getting more Ethiopian next week ;)