Monday, October 30, 2006

Eating The Towel

Saturday night found myself and Lady G at Baltimore's Dukem Restaurant (that's pronounced "doo-kem" and not "duke-em"). It was a cold and blustery night with high winds and a crisp feel in the air - but crap was it cold.

Dukem was recommended to me by a friend who eats there all the time. It's a lot smaller than I expected and at 9pm the dining room was absolutely empty. Lady G and I were the only people there. At first I thought they were closed but the friendly hostess/owner greeted us warmly and we made ourselves at home.

I've never had Ethiopian food before. Didn't know anything about it. But a friend said it was good and that was good enough for me to give it a try. Our young waitress who hails from Addis Abbaba had good command of English but I tend to speak very colloquially and some (read:many) of the euphemisms and slangs didn't translate well and she ended up coming off a bit curt. Like when I told her I had never eaten Ethiopian food and asked her what I should try somehow that didn't translate well. Or the sizes: "Yes, they're pretty small."

Started out with some hot tea. I'm no tea expert but it was fascinatingly good. I'm sure it was relatively cheap stuff but it was a bit spicy and that was very enjoyable. Of course, Lady G asked for a bit of lemon and our waitresses responce was pure Third Wave Barista - that response of surprise and look of incredulity when someone asks to pour hazelnut syrup into that $100 per pound Brazilian Fazenda Santa Ines. I almost started to laugh.

Lady G had eaten Ethiopian before and referred to the traditional bread, the Injera, as eating a towel. The Injera is completely fascinating to me. Looks like a huge, grayish-brown, spongy crepe. Very neutral tasting at first that finishes with sour notes. Completely odd and totally different, in many ways I didn't know what to make of it.

When I'm out and trying something new, I prefer to allow the kitchen to prepare something for us. I'm adventurous, I'll try anything. But getting our waitress to recommend some dishes seemed next to impossible - although she finally recommended that we try the Dukem Special Lamb Tibs. Combine that with the prime short rib Goden Tibs and the Special Dukem Veggie Combo 1 and we were ready to try something new.

I'm no vegan but I found the veggie combo to be quite tasty. Spicy split lentil, yellow peas, greens, cabbage, shiro and potato all served on top of injera with the lamb tibs in the center and the Goden tibs on the side. Honestly, I didn't know what veggies we were eating. Most were mashed in some way, or chopped and I didn't know how to eat since the food didn't come with a knife and fork.

Okay, I hate to admit it, but I felt uncomfortable without the knife and fork. I didn't know what to do. Even though I'm Filipino and very skilled at eating with my hands, I didn't know if that kind of exercise was welcome here and had to consult with our waitress on the proper Ethiopian technique. She promptly came out with a small plate of injera and some veggie paste thing and showed us how it's done in Addis Abbaba. Just tear off a piece of injera, support with your fingers and grab whatever food you want. Note: please be sure that you grab/wrap the food with your injera and not your fingers.

Properly indoctrinated into Ethiopian grinding methodology, I went to town. The Goden was okay, nothing too stellar. Just some thick cut short ribs marinated and then grilled. The meat was pretty tough and I think if they braised it, it would have been incredible. Like I said, the veggies were good. Some spicy, others acidy, but a good accompaniment.

The Lamb Tibs were fantastic. Marinated and cooked so the outside of the meat was slightly crisp. It was heavenly. I tore it up.

In the end, that was it. No dessert. The food was way too much for Lady G and I - even though our waitress assured us the servings were small. Maybe compared to Macaroni Grill. Whatever the case, there was enough food leftover to fill two takeout containers. Being that we were in the city out and about, I started thinking that maybe a sojourn to Vaccaro's in Little Italy for some cannoli might be in order, but Lady G had some other dessert in mind.....

Oh la, la!