With no expertise in critiquing Ethiopian food, we walked into Blue Nile as ignorant as anyone. The aroma of vibrant spices lured us past the large bar and stage (though empty at the time, we’d heard they bring in some funky live music) and into the dining room.
The place has a strange personality, from the floral upholstery and red velvet booths to the water-stained drop-down ceilings; only the wall decorations hinted of Ethiopian influence. We chose a booth instead of a table, but would warn against it: wooden beams poked into our backs, as if they’d forgotten to add padding to the back of the seat. But, the menu made the homemade seating (and odd ambiance) worthwhile.
Applauded for its unique beer collection, Blue Nile offers local favorites alongside others that were new to us. Though we stuck to brews (a Lift Bridge Hop Prop IPA for Jim and a Surly Cynic for me), the cocktail menu also looked fantastic, using tropical fruit and purees in traditional drinks (mango margarita, anyone?). Food-wise, we felt clueless about what to order, though everything looked intriguing. We had options of chicken, lamb or beef entrees or meatless dishes with lentils or vegetables. Luckily, Blue Nile’s sampler plates are perfect for people (like us) who have no idea where to start.
Gosa Gosa C, the two-person sampler, was served in a large 18-inch dish. Biddeena – a spongy, crepe-like, and almost sweet Ethiopian flatbread – lined the bottom, and was covered with scoops of both meat stews and vegetarian entrees to give us a taste of everything. Dipping sauces in the center were a bonus: yogurt (to tame the spices) and a smoky hot sauce (to kick it up a notch). We had additional Biddeena on the side that we tore into pieces to scoop up the stews – no silverware here!
We certainly had our favorites. Next time, we’ll go for the Maraka Hoolaa (lamb in a tomato-based stew flavored with ginger, garlic and other spices), Maraka Lukku (chicken stewed in similar spices and served traditionally with two hard-boiled eggs) or the Missiraa Diimaa (spicy red lentils). Eating with our fingers was actually kind of fun, and the Biddeena had a subtle flavor that was a good palate cleanser between flavors. Not only was the food delicious, it was filling – we managed to try each stew and polish off our favorites, but we left completely full.
Overall, the food was delightful – even if the presentation wasn’t beautiful (though, can you really make lentils or meat stews look pretty?). Service was laid back and pleasant – synonymous with sloooowww, but a match for the chill vibe and relaxed atmosphere. The best part was doing something a little out of the ordinary. With its interesting beers, uncommon entrees and encouragement to get our hands dirty, Blue Nile put some tasty adventure into our otherwise-typical night.
RATING (out of 5 ♠♠♠♠♠)
Menu Selection: ♠♠♠
Food Taste & Presentation: ♠♠♠1/2
COMPLETE EXPERIENCE: ♠♠♠
Total bill, including tip: $46.50