I had a fabulous day yesterday, spent in the company of my daughter Shelby. As often as possible, and most always on Sundays, we get together for a day of catching up. No matter how often we speak on the phone there’s nothing like the feeling that overcomes me every time I see her and each time we spend a day creating life’s memories.
Yesterday’s adventure began right out of the gate with lunch. I suggested we try a new cuisine. Shelby suggested Ethiopian. Alrighty then, let the adventures begin. We chose Desta Ethiopian Kitchen, the highest rated Ethiopian restaurant in Atlanta. Shelby’s roommate Claire joined us, which was so nice and helpful. She knew all about injera (the spongy pancake-like flatbread) and how to use it as a utensil. Hehe, I knew before the first bite of food came that I would LOVE this meal.
Because we chose this restaurant on a whim, there was no time to research the must-try list. Having said that, Desta’s menu had wonderful descriptions including a glossary down one side. I wish I had taken a picture of it so I could remember all the mouthwatering details of each dish we chose. The menu was broken into categories. Appetizers, Tibs, Salads, Kitfo, Vegetarian, Fir Fir, Pasta, and Desserts. When it came time to order we were full of questions and our server was more than willing to help and actually steer our selections. So here’s what we had with a little description of each dish:
- Injera. We were delivered a plate that at first glance looked like a pile of steamed hand towels. Instead they were rolls of spongy pancake-like sourdough flatbread. Injera. Every table had a plate of them and they were refilled throughout the meal. The traditional way to eat Ethiopian dishes is to tear off a piece of injera and with your right hand pinch it down over the meats, stews, or vegetables that are served family style. Although they did bring us forks we were quite fine eating with our hands. Since this was our first experience with injera I will just say that it didn’t have much flavor, but it served it’s purpose of absorbing the amazing sauces.
- Kitfo Appetizer. Right out of the gate we proved we were up for anything and began with a Kitfo Wrap. Steak tartare mixed with spicy clarified butter rolled in injera. My attempt to order the Kitfo dinner made our waitress a little uneasy and she convinced us to try an appetizer portion. That was the right call. Although we each ate a roll (which according to the menu rating system made us ‘Very Brave’), none of us were fighting for the last one on the plate. We can check that off our culinary list, along with chicken feet from our Chinese New Year Exploration.
- Fish Tibs. I was talked out of the Kitfo dinner and talked in to the Fish Tibs. Crispy sautéed pieces of seasoned tilapia cooked with red onion, tomatoes, and jalapeno peppers. Very good and relatively mildly seasoned compared to some of the other dishes. When I got home and did a little post-meal research every review of this restaurant raved about their Fish Tibs.
- Ribeye Tibs with Awaze Sauce. This was Claire’s choice and it was a good one. Tender small cubes of ribeye steak sautéed with onion, tomatoes, and peppers served with Awaze Sauce. Awaze Sauce is made from berbere (a red chili pepper based spice blend), ginger, garlic, and butter. This dish was spicy, but not too spicy for these girls.
- Vegetarian Platter. Shelby rounded out our selections by choosing this amazing platter. This dish is deserving of a post of it’s own. I literally contemplated getting in my car and driving the hour to Desta for lunch today just so I could sample all of these wonderful veggie delights again. Oh my word. I began my research the minute I got home and think I have come up with all the proper names and descriptions of each (listed below). Again, all of these were eaten by hand with the injera bread.
- Shiro. A thick red sauce made from chickpea powder, garlic, onion, and spiced berbere butter. The texture reminded me of thin refried beans and was spicy and full of bold flavor. Shiro is served warm on top of injera.
- Miser Wot. Red lentils stewed in a rich spicy berbere sauce with onion, garlic, and ginger. The red lentils were one of our favorites. They were served warm over injera. This will be the first dish I try and recreate at home.
- Ater. Yellow split peas stewed in a special sauce (I’m guessing it had turmeric) with onion, garlic, and ginger served warm over injera. Very tasty. We all really liked this one as well.
- Dinech Wot. “Wot” is a term used for stews. As in this warm potato stew with the now familiar smoky flavor of the berbere sauce. Yummy with kick.
- Tikel Gomen. Sautéed cabbage, carrots, and onions with a warm turmeric sauce. This dish was mild and the turmeric sauce offered a nice contrast to the spicy berbere based dishes.
- Gomen. The last of the warm vegetarian dishes was fresh collard greens sautéed with onions, garlic, and ginger. Lots of garlic. So delicious.
- Tomato Fit Fit. Small pieces of injera are mixed with diced tomato, onion, jalapeno and a vinaigrette dressing. This dish is served cold and had a lovely flavor, although at this point we were beginning to get our fill of injera :)
- Suff Fit Fit. Small pieces of injera mixed with sesame seed juice and served cold. I’m neutral on this dish.
- Mixed Greens & Tomato Salad. Right in the middle of our veggie platter was a pile of fresh mixed greens with diced tomato, red onion and carrot with a light vinaigrette dressing. At first, compared to all of these elaborate dishes, the salad seemed an odd addition. I quickly came to appreciate it as a palate cleanser between bites of the other bold and spicy dishes. It was wonderful.
- Azifa. When finished eating we began to name our favorites, almost in unison “the green one” got a big thumbs up. It took some time and persistence to come up with the proper name for this one. Oddly it’s not listed on their menu, but after reading pages of restaurant reviews I found mention of it and Googled the ingredients. Bingo. Azifa is green lentil salad served cold with a light vinaigrette. This will be the second dish that I attempt at home. It was delicious and like the mixed green salad offered a refreshing contrast of flavor.
- Beet & Potato Salad. Last but not least, rounding out this glorious vegetarian experience was the tasty beet & potato salad. It was served cold in a lemony olive oil dressing.
With the variety of dishes we sampled I feel confident when I say that I love Ethiopian cuisine. And fortunately there were several other traditional dishes on their menu that I’m anxious to try. Like Sambusa (beef or lentil filled crispy wontons), Lamb Tibs, their dessert case looked amazing and the Tiramisu got wonderful ratings, their breakfast and brunch platters sound as amazing as the vegetarian platter, and I’ve since learned that Ethiopian coffee is renowned. I think all good Winter Thyme Spice Explorations should include a tour of Ethiopian cuisine.
Lunch was just the start of our fabulous day. From there Shelby and I headed to the historic Virginia Highland neighborhood. It was another first for me and I thoroughly enjoyed it. We parked and walked through the blocks of bungalow homes, popping in and out of quaint and trendy shops, eclectic eateries, parks and galleries….all the while dreaming out loud about which house we’d choose when we move in and wouldn’t the dogs be so happy here (everyone had a dog, welcomed in all stores, water and treats provided at every turn). The day was still young and we had a little more adventure left in us, so we got back in the car to head to the next historic neighborhood on our list. But before we got far this ‘piece of art’ caught our attention.
And how. There it was in front of a house leaning against the black iron fence, next to the trash can. Could it be that someone was parting with this creation? Sure enough it had been cast aside about to make it’s way to a landfill. We did a U-turn and turned down a side street to get a better look. It was so bizarre, kind of creepy, and very very cool (yes that is a lantern head and various other pieces of hardware). Shelby jumped out, I popped the trunk, in it went, we never looked back. Off to Little Five Points, treasure in the trunk.
Little Five Points is another famous Atlanta neighborhood. But not for any of the same reasons as Virginia Highland. In fact, quite the contrary. Once again, we parked the car and headed out on foot. It seems anything goes in Little Five which made for some mighty fine people watching. The drag queens walking their dog who was also dressed in drag, stands out. The shops were edgy with lots of shock and awe (Criminal Records and Junkman’s Daughter were standouts). The street musician, who seemed to tune out the passersby, sang with the most soulful voice….it gave us goose bumps. Then there’s the famous Vortex Bar and Grill where you enter through a giant skull. Not a neighborhood I will need to visit often, but it definitely left an impression on me. And that impression is to not judge people. Shelby and I may have stood out more than most as we made our way in and out of shops, but no one judged us. We laughed and talked and even shed a tear or two as we talked about life. We turned no heads.
I’d like to close this post with a message for my beautiful 22 year old daughter to ponder. Life is a series of adventures. Some will far exceed your expectations and others will leave you broken. They all become part of you, your make up, your character, your strength. You are weaving a fine piece of cloth that is your life. Let it keep you warm at night and let it help you fly by day.
And remember, never pass a treasure on the street without at least giving it a second look, never stop tasting the unknown, and never ever stop loving with all your heart.
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