Tom Sietsema wrote about Zed's Bistro and Wine Bar for a July 2009 First Bite column.
Like a lot of her peers, restaurateur Zed Wondemu went casual when she decided to open a spinoff of the eponymous Zed's Ethiopian Cuisine in Georgetown. So the granite tabletops at the sunny new Zed's Bistro and Wine Bar (6850 Piedmont Center Plaza; 571-261-5933; http://www.zeds.net) in Gainesville are free of tablecloths, its floors are inexpensive tile and two flat-screen TVs hang on opposite sides of the room to attract neighbors who might want to drop by to watch the game du jour.
There are also forks and knives on the tables in Gainesville, although anyone with even a fleeting knowledge of the cuisine knows that Ethiopians eat their meals using injera, the spongy fermented pancake that's served in sheets and torn apart to pick up the stews and salads and swipe up the sauces. Wondemu shouldn't have worried that her customers in the suburbs wouldn't know what to do without utensils, however, since their feedback already has brought about a change in presentation: It turns out her audience prefers eating the Ethiopian way, off big platters rather than from the individual china plates the owner bought for the bistro.
Wondemu is calling her menu in Virginia a "limited edition," or abbreviated version, that includes some of the most popular dishes at Zed's in Washington. The crossover hits include beef cubes simmered in a red pepper sauce, chicken strips cooked in seasoned butter and what might be my favorite starter, a scoop of slightly dry cottage cheese enriched with clarified herbed butter and served with a dab of brick-colored mitmita, Ethiopia's fiery chili powder. Based on my visit, the cooking here is a little more mild, and in some cases a bit sweeter, than what's typically found in and near the District, where dozens of Ethiopian restaurants compete against one another.
Heading the kitchen is a chef whose last name is one letter off from the owner's, although Tom Wondimu is definitely family. "He's my brother," confirms Wondemu.
The space at Zed's Bistro is smaller than at the two-story restaurant, but the former's advantages include outdoor tables shaded by big umbrellas and something Wondemu didn't have to think about when she opened the original establishment more than two decades ago: plenty of outlets for laptop users.
(July 1, 2009)