If Mamma Desta's looks a cross between the Chinese luncheonette it was and an Ethiopian hut, the Blue Nile looks a cross between a small-town nightclub and an African museum. It sits behind the courtyard of an apartment building, and I have yet to find an easy way to get to it. Its mystery increases: there are no windows. But the walls are attractively covered in grasscloth and decorated with shields and batiks. The place mats on the brown-checked vinyl cloths show maps of Ethiopia, and the menu illustrates the Ethiopian alphabet. It is dimly lit with blue candles and yellow electric lights. Atmospheric, even though the Ethiopian music has to compete with a television set at the bar, and the vases on the tables hold no flowers. The Blue Nile keeps you off balance; the waitresses wear beautiful long robes, and the tables are set with Wet-Naps.
The Blue Nile gets really crowded late in the evening, and the party is said to go on until 3 a.m. Thus, if you want the one basket table, reserve it early.
As in other Ethiopian restaurants, the beer and wine list, small as they are, are longer than the food list. You can order Doro wote (spelled "watt" on other menus), a chicken and hard-boiled-egg stew that is brick red, peppery and flavored with onions. Khey wote is a beef version. Alicha is lamb stew, mild and cooked to a near-puree. The tebse (tibs elsewhere) is chewy, hardly spiced, pleasant. In contrast, the kitfo is highly peppered. And there is a vegetable combination. The portions are small at the Blue Nile, with the dishes already portioned on a tray of injera, arranged so that each person has the full range in front of him, with dabs of vegetables and of hot pepper paste in case he likes it hotter, small mounds of cottage cheese to cut the fire if it is already too hot. A tidy arrangement it is, and good -- simple food with spicing that is strong but uncomplicated. A little more western than the other restaurants, the Blue Nile also offers a salad ($1.25) and, at lunch, several pasta dishes.