Thursday, July 8, 2010

Ras Dashen

For two and a half years during undergrad I worked in the lab of Dr. Christopher Rao. While there I was teamed up with a student pursuing his PhD, Supreet Saini. From our time together either doing research or playing an intense match of squash, Supreet and I became great friends. Well now Supreet has received his PhD and is preparing to return to India for work. Supreet's parents, having never been to America, decided it would be best to come visit while their son was in the country. They went to some major cities like NYC and DC, and eventually made it to Chicago where it was my turn to help show them around.

Having eaten mostly Indian food throughout their lives, another point of interest on the trip was trying a variety of cuisines. When they got to Chicago, Supreet thought his parents might enjoy some Ethiopian food. Interestingly enough, I'd just seen a place reviewed on Check Please called Ras Dashen. So the Supreet and his family came in town. They first went to the Taste (which by the way had some awesome Tilapia Tacos from Carbon), walked around for a bit, and then I picked them up for lunch.


Logistics
Ras Dashen is an inconspicuous restaurant in Edgewater that you could easily miss if you weren't looking out for it. The simple appearance outside is very deceiving as the inside is beautifully decorated. There are amazing pieces of Ethiopian artwork strewn across the walls. That plus the music that plays lightly in the background really makes for a nice ambiance.

The service was pretty good until a few other parties came in. They really only had one waitress running the whole show since it was a later lunch time. We went in at around 1 PM, and the whole place was pretty much empty, but it started to fill in as we were finishing up (which is strange based on the time). They do take reservations, which I've heard is necessary for a Friday or Saturday night, especially if you bring a decent crowd like many people do at Ethiopian places.

As far as cost, I think this is pretty on par with other Ethiopian places I've been. Most of the entrees were close to $14, and your table automatically gets 3 side dishes. I get that this is the going rate for this food, but sometimes I feel like a bunch of stewed veggies on injera bread should cost less than that.

The Food
For those of you unfamiliar with Ethiopian food, it's basically served family style on a table sized piece of Injera Bread. The bread looks like and has the consistency of a thin sponge. From there you mostly order a variety of Wats (stews) and side dishes that get poured directly onto the bread. Each individual is then given their own smaller piece of Injera bread to use as the only utensil in picking up food. Now that we've got that out of the way, on to our meal.

Because of my present company's dietary restrictions, we stuck to vegetarian items. We ordered Misserana Bowmia (Lentils and Okra in Berbere Sauce), Komodoro Fetfet (Ethiopian Panzanella [bread salad]), and Shirro (Spicy Chickpea Stew). For our sides we got Qosta (sauteed Spinach, Onions, and Garlic), Diblik Atkilt (stewed vegetables and potatoes), and Misser Wat (pureed red lentils). Now I've had Ethiopian a few times, and I don't want to seem biased negatively, but I just can't seem to wrap my head around it completely. One issue is that everything has pretty much the same mush texture. Also, after a little while, the sour flavor of the Injera bread becomes a little overwhelming. The sauces are a nice touch though. The Berbere sauce which was on a few dishes was rich and spicy. The Komodoro was overkill on the Injera bread without enough of the chilled vegetables to balance it out (plus what do you eat bread salad with when all you have is more bread?). The Okra was pretty good, but nothing extraordinary besides the sauce. The Shirro came out a little colder than it probably should have, resulting in a hardening of the mushy texture in an unpleasant way. On the bright side, all three of the side dishes were excellent. The Qosta was basically a spicy creamed spinach, the stewed potatoes were nicely done, and the Misser Wat had that Berbere sauce with lentils so they couldn't really go wrong.

 Our Table's Food
Starting at 1 O'clock going Clockwise
Qosta, Komodoro Fetfet, Diblik Atklit, Misserana Bowmia, and Shirro

For dessert we ordered a pretty strange array of dishes. What was so strange was that they had nothing to do with Ethiopian food, but Supreet's family was intrigued and we ordered anyways. We got the Baklava, Coconut Creme Brulee, and Rice Pudding. All three were fantastic (far better than the entrees), but I still couldn't wrap my head around why they were available dessert choices. It was a very bright note at the end of an average meal.

 Baklava

Rice Pudding

Coconut Creme Brulee

Overall
One thing to be said for Ethiopian dining is what an excellent social experience the whole thing is. I really got to know Supreet's family very well over one meal. We shared our food and many stories. This was the last meal I'd have with Supreet before his return to India, and it might be some time before we meet up again. In that respect, this place was great. If only the food were as special as the company, this may have gone even better. There were some great dishes though, like the desserts and the sides. If it wasn't for those, I may have gone lower, but I'm giving Ras Dashen 2 out of 5 Pearls.



Ras Dashen on Urbanspoon

2 comments:

  1. I'm a chef-educator and just spent 2 days in the kitchen with Zenash. It may not be apparent to someone who is not a chef, but the layers of flavor and the work that goes into each of her dishes is incredible. Believe me, they are not overpriced. Just try making the berberé, spiced butter and injera and you'll understand. It's a very complex cuisine and Zenash does not cut corners. You just need to adjust to the strong and different tastes. Personally, I'm addicted to the sour flavor of injera.

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  2. What a great initiative here. I'll look around the site and see if I can offer any additional ideas. Thanks.

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