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New Eritrea Restaurant & Bar
907 Irving Street/10th Ave., SF
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Pretrial hearing at The Mucky Duck
12/11/02

 

Out front. Turner

I thought we were going for Ethiopian füd, that's what they said. Imagine my dismay when we showed up at the place and it was Eritrean!! I almost walked. But, being the good sport I am, I decided to give it a go. After all, I imagine there's a fine line betwixt Ethiopian and Eritrean cuisines. It could just be the "Eritrean spices" that they use. At any rate, this was my first taste of real African dining, and it ain't bad.

The place is big and fairly well-appointed with what I assume are Eritrean decorations, most notably these strange painted hides hanging on the walls and pinned under the glass tops of the tables. After bickering over whether they were terriers, large rats, or perhaps capybaras, we asked the friendly waiter. Goats! They were all goats. Pretty freaking small goats, though, I'm here to tell you. But painted in a lovely fashion.

The food, right. First out was the Sambusa, a rolled up fried thing, which are never bad. This one was pretty good, but a tad skimpy for three people. At only three bucks a serving, though, you can get a couple orders of this hamburger-onion eggroll-like appetizer. Not spicy at all, as I recall. Which was good, because we were in for it.

Goats!We wanted a good mix of dishes, so we ordered a Combination, as well as another dish that caught our eye. The combo went for $10.50 and included Zigni: pieces of Inera bread soaked in alicah watt (lamb); Zebhi Dorho: chicken cooked with onions, tomatoes, tesmi butter, red pepper sauce, and Eritrean spices; and Allicha Begee: tender squares of lamb, served with a variety of vegetables, curry, and Eritrean spices. Then we tacked on Kilwa Begee: strips of lamb simmered with onion, butter, and hot spices ($9.50). I think we had something else in there, too. Spinach?

I'd like to tell you how each of these were, but the fact is I couldn't tell the Zebhi from the Zigni when the platter arrived. But what a platter it was. A huge tray lined with bread covered with multiple blobs of various colors and textures. Not unlike a painter's palette. Along with this came a bunch of their spongy, sour flat bread, otherwise known as your spoon and napkin. We just dove in, scooping up at random, and eventually mixing it all together. Some of these dishes were very spicy, some were very hot, and at least one was like pouring sulphuric acid on your tongue. But some people like that kind of thing. The bread for me was too sour, like super sourdough, but not too spongy.

Over all it was an interesting dining adventure there at New Eritrea, even if it wasn't Ethiopian. Some new flavors and textures, and there's nothing wrong with that. I can't compare to other African joints, but if you're new to the genre, New Eritrea could be the place to start.

 

Big ol' platterVardigan

It was the trick bread, the spongy multi-purpose Injera, that fooled me. It has at least two purposes, which is one more than most bread. It's the utensil food. It's also, now that I think of it, kind of a plate, so that makes three uses. You get it on the side, as a scooper, and then it's also buried between the real plate and the massive pile of food, at least in the case of the combination plate we had.

Its fourth use, maybe, is to fool some diner like me. I've been eating solid foods for many years, over which time I've figured out how much my stomach can hold. I've also got the metabolism of a hummingbird or an Italian greyhound. So feeling bloated after eating, wanting to lie down in a field like I was in some Brueghel painting, this is unfamiliar to me. But the deceptive bread expands, I believe, in your stomach. Leaving the restaurant I was full, but half an hour later I was something far beyond it-- my stomach felt like the cheeks of a trumpeter. The N Judah that took me home may as well have been a wheelbarrow.

But this is really all my fault. So too, I believe, was the digestive turmoil I suffered later. I can't hold this against New Eritrea. The food atop the Injera was my kind of meal: spicy, varied, and savory. I enjoyed the lamb and the beef a lot (although we weren't always sure which was which), and the vegetarian sections were not short on flavor either. If you're eating with carnivores and herbivores, I wouldn't recommend getting the combo like this, because once you start scooping and devouring, everything gets all mixed up. I suggest you go. But if you go, hedge your bets and come up just shy of stuffed. Your stomach will thank you later.

 

McClure

I had my introduction to Ethiopian cuisine working at the Queen of Sheba back in high school.  I was the dishwasher/cutlery polisher/napkin folder and enjoyed partaking of the delights the restaurant had to offer.  I'm pretty sure it was my first encounter with hummus.  While New Eritrea doesn't serve up a hummus, who needs it when it has become a staple at every grocery and corner market.  We did try an appetizer, the Sambusa, described as an eggroll shell fried and filled with prime ground beef and prepared with onions and Eritrean spices. It was nothing spectacular. The shell wasn't what I expected -- a bit doughier than I would have liked.  Any who, we could have done without it because the main course was so plentiful we weren't able to polish it off.

The meal was served family style on a large platter of Injera bread which is used as a utensil. This bread is great, spongy and sorta sour, great for soaking up juices, grabbing a bit of beef, or cooling off the taste buds after a particularly spicy bite. Our feast consisted of beef, lamb, chicken and spinach for about 20 bucks. All were marinated nicely and spiced ranging from medium to zing zow whoah -- hot. I relished all the dishes and was bummed I couldn't keep eating but I was oh so full. The service was friendly and the waiter was a help in our decision on what to order. Another plus was the bar (beer and wine): beers for only $2.50 a pint.

If you are looking for something a bit different in this city of so many choices, give new Eritrea a try, I think you will like.

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