The more I check out the competition, the more I’m drawn to Meskerem. Among the capital’s many Ethiopian restaurants, this one feels the most comfortable. The seating is spread across three levels; head for the low stools beneath the spoked ceiling of the top floor, or one of the window perches where you can peer out at a steady stream of passersby (and they at you). The menu is ambitious as well, starting with won-ton-like pastries stuffed with minced beef or collard greens, steamed shrimp with a zippy red dipping sauce, and a vivid salad of chopped beets, potatoes and chilies. From there, you can move on to a variety of mild or hot stewed meats, vegetables and seafood, presented on large trays lined with injera, the thick fermented pancakes that double as scoops for the food. (The dishes are meant to be eaten communally, over basketlike tables, and with the hands.) I’m partial to the vegetarian sampler, which includes earth-toned dollops of pureed chick peas, mashed lentils, potato salad with green chilies and soothing chopped greens-an edible artist’s palette.
Weaned on a beige buffet a la “Fargo” in Minnesota, Tom Sietsema is the food critic for The Washington Post. This is his second tour of duty at the Post. Sietsema got his first taste in the ‘80s, when he was hired by his predecessor to answer phones, write some, and test the bulk of the Food section’s recipes. That’s how he learned to clean squid, bake colonial cakes and distinguish between nutmeg and mace.