Thursday, February 11, 2010

Bahel




3125 Briarcliff Rd., Ste. C, Atlanta, GA 404/325-6000

On Monday night Kyle, John and I ate dinner at Bahel, and Ethiopian restaurant near the intersection of Briarcliff and Clairmont roads. I had only eaten Ethiopian food on one occasion, back when I was in college and I was most certainly not a foodie. All I remember about that experience was that my date and I sat on big cushions on the floor and when I ordered chicken I received a hard boiled egg amidst a pool of some type of sauce. Despite this strange dinner, I decided to give Ethiopian cuisine another chance, and selected Bahel because of its convenient location.

And I'm really glad I did, because it was great. First of all, we didn't sit on the floor, we sat at a regular table. Second, the portions were huge. We ordered two meat entrees and a vegetable dish and it easily fed all three of us, and we ate until we were stuffed. My favorite was the chicken kitfo ($9.99), a moderately spicy dish that I couldn't get enough of. Kyle loved the gomen wot, a fantastic chopped and steamed collard greens dish for $5.00. The lega tibs ($9.99), a sauteed beef dish with green peppers, was chunky and flavorful. This also came with salad, which was unexciting.

But let me back up a little bit. The food arrived on a huge round dish with rolls of spongy, thin brown bread all around the edges. Our waitress explained that utensils aren't used in Ethiopian cuisine. Instead, you tear off a piece of the bread and sort of pinch and scoop the meat or vegetables within in, then stuff the entire thing in your mouth. It was a much easier method to master than chopsticks. Your server will dump bowls of each dish you ordered onto the big plate, and everyone shares.

There were several raw beef options on the menu, but once our waitress discovered that we had were Ethiopian cuisine novices she strongly advised us against ordering these. Both John and I happen to love steak tartar, so I was willing to try it, but I've learned the hard way over the years that if your server tells you to not order something, you obey. Maybe another time - they all seemed to contain clarified butter, which I love. We also spotted some other diners eating a plate of steaming ribs that looked pretty good. For vegetarians, there were lots of bean and lentil options as well as cabbage, collards and carrots.

Oh, and it's also really inexpensive. Our entire dinner, including one glass of honey wine (not my favorite, tasted sort of sour) and one Ethiopian beer (St. George - a run of the mill pilsner) came to $36, and we had enough food leftover to take some home.

The one incongruity was the restroom, which is unisex. It was decorated with pictures of French shop fronts and bakeries, the kind you would expect to see in any cafe or French restaurant in the city. The main dining room, which only has about 8 tables, is decorated in dark reds and beiges, with African inspired furniture. It makes a lot more sense than the French stuff in the restroom.

Verdict: Lots of spicy good food for a pittance.

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