We made plans to meet with Sherman and Kim for dinner, which, thanks to Kim’s recommendation, would be held at Axum Ethiopian Restaurant at the intersection of Commercial and Hastings. We were the only customers when we entered Axum, with what was clearly the family meal happening at a nearby table. The restaurant was nicely decorated with basket-woven chairs, wall hangings and painted murals paired with modern lighting fixtures and cute grass-like centerpieces.
I forgot my camera – so big thanks to both Kim & Sherman for sharing their photo sets with me :) Their talented SLR pics are included in this post.
Ethiopian food is excellent for group dinners, the kind of meal that you can enjoy at a leisurely pace, trying a bit of this and that from the family-style platters. The four of us were up for anything, so we ordered a wide variety of dishes, including something we never got to order with previous groups: Gored gored beef
Yes folks, this is raw beef, marinated in spices, it is incredibly tender. I’ve had beef carpaccio and tataki before, and tartare too, but never raw beef in chunks. The server seemed a bit surprised and made sure we knew what we were ordering. There is the option of having the beef cooked rare, but we wanted the authentic version. As I mentioned above, it was very tender, the spices were earthy but with a bit of kick – Chris thinks it was very much like cayenne – a dry spiciness, but the dish itself isn’t dry at all.
Our other starter was a series of veggie appetizers, served on a large injira bread (which is the neutral flavoured pancake-like flat bread which serves as your eating implement as well). The four items (a mashed chickpea mix, a split-pea mix, a creamed spinach, and a coleslaw-like cabbage and carrot mix) were okay – definitely not yummy enough to make up an entire meal. I’ve enjoyed the spinach better elsewhere where the preparation was saltier and served warmer. The server did bring out some home-made cheese (which is somewhat between the flavour of pressed cottage cheese, but with the texture of feta) which was particularly good with the spinach, but not quite salty enough to season the other veggies.
The chicken Doro Alicha Wot had a very yummy yellow-curry sauce which reminded me a lot of Chinese curry chicken, but the small cubes of white chicken in the dish were a bit dry. This wouldn’t have been bad, but in comparison to some of the other meats, the chicken was definitely not as tender.
The fish tibs (where tibs refers not to a cut of meat, but rather a preparation) was very tender in contrast. The fish was well cooked, flaky but still moist, in a rich red chili sauce. This was definitely my favourite item – there was actually a lot of fish in this dish too. Very good!
The lamb tibs had a similar sauce to the fish, but it was definitely more oily. The lamb was cooked in ghee (clarified butter) which was delicious and helped keep the meat very tender, but for me, it wasn’t as balanced as the fish. Chris really like the lamb, I think the bigger pieces of meat mixed with sauteed onion were right up his alley!
A few more notes on injira – I was VERY happy that we were provided with two big stacks of rolled injira. I hate having to ration bread when it’s so important to the meal (e.g. naan in Indian food, little pancakes for Peking duck) – the injira was fresh and had a good spongy texture to help enjoy the sauces.
I particularly like that it’s easy to tear – I can never eat naan properly! The server had also suggested to pour the various dishes onto a large injira (similar to how the veggie appetizers were served), and we should have followed her advice. The sauces would have melded together more, and perhaps some of the extra oiliness in the lamb dish would have gone into the bread rather than stay in the sauce. Oh – and injira is usually served room temperature, so don’t be surprised if these aren’t steaming when they arrive at your table.
Now, while there was an intricate coffee service available (which apparently takes some time as the beans are roasted to order!) we weren’t in the mood to be up all night with caffeine jitters; I did order spicy tea, which totally confused me! I didn’t realize that the gold-coloured liquid in my cup wasn’t just a pre-steeped cup of tea, but rather spice-infused water, to which I was supposed to add the tea bag. I actually liked the spiced water on its own better – how uncouth of me!
So – Axum was a success: the bill came to around $15 a person, with everyone full and left overs that would have fed at least one more for lunch, it was a very good value in addition to being pretty darn tasty. I would definitely come back and try other dishes and definitely the coffee service too! Thanks again Kim & Sherman – I hope we get together for dinner again soon!