There’s a moment of glee when you realize you’re expected to eat with your hands at Ras Kassa’s—maybe a bit of an “in-your-face!” to all the times Mother told you to sit up, tuck in your shirt and use your fork properly.
But the truth is, it takes almost no time at all for it to become second nature to reach for a piece of injera, the large, traditional sourdough flatbread, and scoopup some spicy lamb or sweet potato stew and savor the exotic tastes of Ethiopian cuisine.
According to the restaurant’s website, Ras Kassa was a legendary Ethiopian king who united the country, and the food here seems fit for exotic royalty. The spices, textures and flavors are reminiscent of Indian cuisines: spicy, pungent and much of it stew-like and well suited for dipping with the injera.
The moment you set foot in the door, the pungent smell of spices hits like a wave and the mouth starts to water. Diners are seated at low, basket-like tables called masabs (there are several regular tables for diners with mobility issues) and dishes are presented on large plates, some literally the size of garbage can lids. Regardless of how many entrées your party orders, they come on a single plate, all the selections for the group served family-style.
My husband ordered a meat and veggie combo that included lamb wat, or stew, in a mild tumeric sauce; cool green lentils that tasted as though they were dressed with a light vinaigrette; and a spicy stew of lemon chicken pieces and a hard boiled egg simmered in a red pepper sauce. Both of the stews were fantastic, with rich, complex sauces—more akin to thick gravy and perfect for scooping up with thick swaths of injera. I ordered the doro tibs, chicken breast pieces pan fried in a chili sauce and served with chunks of mango, stir fried with onions and vaguely similar to a cross between a Thai stir fry and a fajita. The sweet and spicy play of the ingredients was fantastically satisfying against the sourdough flavor of the bread. Both entrées came with sides of collard greens, carrot beet salad and an injera bread salad, as well as all the spongy, sour injera we could eat. The vinegary flavor of the salads and green lentils perfectly complimented the rich, spicy flavors of the main dishes.
I do love a place where you can sample different dishes, especially ethnic cuisines that aren’t likely to be familiar to everyone. Ras Kassa’s menu makes that easy—if not practically required. The many different combination plates and the meat and vegetarian feasts make sampling easy, as does the lunch buffet. And it certainly doesn’t hurt that you can just reach across the plate and sample your companion’s meal as well.
But even with all the variety on our frankly gigantic plate, I couldn’t help but wish I could taste more: the chef’s special mushrooms, the spicy sweet potato stew or the pan fried red trout. But that’s just an opportunity to return, order a bottle of Ras Kassa’s honey wine and dig in—with my fingers, of course.
Ras Kassa’s Ethiopian Restaurant
2111 30th St.
Bottom Line: Dig in—with both hands if necessary.