Gebeta Ethiopian Restaurant

Ethiopian
$$$$ ($14 and under)
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Editorial Review

A deeper exploration into Ethiopia
By Tom Sietsema
Wednesday, September 26, 2012

If you’re an Ethiopian upstart in a market crowded with sources for doro wat, it helps to set yourself apart. Open since May in Silver Spring, Gebeta Ethiopian Restaurant draws attention to itself with grass-green walls, eggplant-colored curtains and a player piano parked near a bar that pours a decent Manhattan.

Settle in with an order of the meat- or lentil-stuffed pastries known as sambusas. They are crisp from frying and best eaten with awaze, the fiery condiment that gets its heat from the spice blend berbere. You could also snack on chicken wings or a beet-and-potato salad while you wait for your main course, but neither appetizer is compelling enough to take up room that could be allotted to Gebeta’s kitfo. The chopped raw beef doused with seasoned butter is a steak tartare with some serious heat in its favor.

Chewy dried beef mixed with torn injera and minced tilapia shocked with black pepper are among the dishes Gebeta serves that many of its competitors do not. Yet the meal I can see myself ordering most often here is the vegetarian sampler, a tray of spongy injera decorated with a diner’s choice of four, six or eight meatless dishes. I appreciate the collards for their light crunch, the red lentils for their kick and the green beans for their subtle sweetness.

Meals conclude with the option of a foreign dessert -- tiramisu, baklava and rum cake, all brought in from outside -- and a detail I wish more Ethiopian restaurants delivered: hot towels for tidying up. Gebeta is quick to dole out utensils, but I prefer to eat like a native, with my fingers.