By Tom Sietsema
Wednesday, April 14, 2010; E03
Meseret Bekele and her husband, Samuel Ergete, kept having the same reaction to the many Ethiopian restaurants they explored in Washington and elsewhere: "We liked some things, and we were disappointed in others," says Bekele, a financial aid officer at Johns Hopkins University. "We always talked about how we would do it" if they had a place of their own.
Now they do. It's called Ethiopic, and it's located where the couple reside, in the ever-more-colorful Atlas District. What was formerly a drug rehabilitation center is now an attractive backdrop for salads and stews eaten with pieces of injera, the pleasantly sour Ethiopian pancake. Paintings and sculptures collected by Bekele from a trip back home last year give the brick-walled space the feel of an art gallery. Alcoves are set with Ethiopian basket-tables. Letters of the Ethiopian alphabet crawl across the columns. A small bar graces the rear.
One visit to the corner storefront isn't enough to make decisive judgments, but on the basis of a few dishes at Ethiopic, I can say that this is food with real personality. Chicken legs sauteed in seasoned butter and cloaked in a gravy of sweet onions, ginger, garlic and more make for a memorable doro aletcha wat, while raw minced beef spiked with mitmita, the fiery Ethiopian spice blend, and tamed with house-made cottage cheese yields a tartare of distinction. Even the dedicated carnivores at my table were helping themselves to seconds and thirds of the vegetarian sampler decorated with red and yellow lentil purees, cabbage salad and zesty collard greens.
Bekele and Ergete, a former data processor, hired Almaze Endale to cook for Ethiopic. She brings past experience at Dukem and Zed's, among other restaurants, to her latest gig.
Her employers have set the bar high. Bekele aspires to serve food "as close to what we used to eat back home" as they can.
401 H St. NE. 202-675-2066. http://www.ethiopicrestaurant.com. Lunch entrees, $9-$27 (sampler for two); dinner entrees, $14-$35 (sampler for two).