First Impressions in NoVA Dining: After running kitchens in Israel for most of her career, an Ethiopian-born chef moves to Virginia to cook the food of her homeland.
The presentation of the platter—chopped meats and mashed lentils, long-cooked vegetables, muted colors and textures in mini mounds lined up in rows atop overlapping layers of injera—is a sight. The options seem overwhelming, especially when leaving the pairing up to the kitchen and opting for both the vegetable and meat combination dishes—all on one plate.
There’s soft, but not soggy, green beans mingling with carrots, and cabbage playing with potato and onion, and yellow split peas, where many of the little pebbles are left whole for a fresher, brighter feel. Shiro, chickpea flour whipped into a seductive puree is rich, savory and might be the best version out there in a crowded field of Ethiopian restaurants.
This one, Makeda, is a partnership between Philipos Mengistu, the chef and owner of Queen of Sheba, an Ethiopian restaurant in New York, and his childhood friend Daniel Solomon. Mengistu and Solomon grew up together in Addis Ababa. They both moved to America, with Solomon settling in Alexandria. He suggested the two of them bring a semi-replica of Queen of Sheba to Virginia.
Chef Senait “Mimi” Tedla, also from Ethiopia, spent most of her career in Israel cooking Mediterranean and Middle Eastern food; the last time she cooked food from her homeland, she said, was “at my house.”
Her first foray into cooking Ethiopian food professionally is a delight: strips of lamb in a rich, musty sauce reminiscent of a mole, and chicken brightened with jalapenos and chardonnay.
Those dishes are complex, with layers of flavors building with berbere, ginger and turmeric. But what is just as good, though much more simple, is something before the big platter. A tease of what’s to come. Where the best part of the meal is scooping up the sauce-soaked swaths of injera underneath the heaps of sauces, ketegna is that, but with none of the waiting: injera tossed with awaze and butter, topped with fresh, crumbly cheese. It’s the reward without the work, an exception to the rule that the best things come to those who wait. // 516A S. Van Dorn St., Alexandria