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Last updated: Tue. Feb. 25, 2014 - 06:37 am EDT

Restaurant review: Queen of Sheba

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Queen of Sheba

Where: 2805 East State Blvd.

Phone: 498-7862 or 804-3111

Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Friday; 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Saturday-Sunday

Menu sampler

Queen of Sheba salad $6

Falafel $4

Ezekiel soup $7

Beef Tibs $10

Yedoro Kitfo $15

Chicken Tibs $15

Queen of Sheba pasta or rice $8

Beans burger $5

Ginger beets juice $5

Ethiopian coffee $3

Pineapple tea $1.50

DISCUSS
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I have to admit I had my misgivings about trying Ethiopian food. I hadn't heard anything positive about it and I knew precious little about the cuisine. But after trying Queen of Sheba, I think I've been listening to the wrong people.

I enjoyed looking at the various musical instruments on the wall as I settled on the appetizer Yesiga Sambussa. This triangle of thin pastry was filled with beef, onions, peppers and herbs. The layers of flaky pastry melted in the my mouth, and the meat and onion mixture had an unusual -- but very tasty -- spice flavor.

My friend chose Falafel - ground beans, chickpeas and Middle Eastern spices, shaped into balls - for her appetizer. The Falafel was moist and soft. Inside there was the surprise of a clove of garlic.

Be sure to try the sauce that accompanies the appetizers. It enhanced the delicious flavors of each of the appetizers without being overpowering. The sauce starts out sweet, then the heat arrives a few seconds later.

We were both impressed with the presentation of our entrees and stopped just short of clapping.

I selected the Yedoro Kitfo - ground chicken seasoned with Ethiopian clarified butter and Ethiopian chili powder. The finely minced chicken, sitting in a pool of butter, was served in a hot cast iron bowl resting on a plate, surrounded by Injera bread. This bread is spongy and resembles a thin pancake in appearance and texture. The bread was cold; I would have preferred it to be warm.

Since Ethiopian food is meant to be eaten with your hands, I spooned a small amount of the chicken mixture onto the bread and rolled it up. Unfortunately, it fell apart and I had to use a fork.

The flavor of the chicken was excellent and the Ethiopian chili powder was mild.

The presentation of my friend's Beef Tibs lunch was even more impressive than mine.

The sizzling beef along with assorted colorful vegetables and onions was served in a shallow, funnel-shaped cast iron dish. Injera bread also accompanied her entree.

She said the beef was amazing and super juicy. The crisp tender vegetables were cooked perfectly. She described the Ethiopian spices in her entree as smoky and similar to cumin.

Both portions were generous and allowed for doggie bags.

The Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony intrigued us, so we both chose it. The ceremony began with the roasting of the coffee beans in a cast iron skillet. Once the skillet was smoking, it was paraded around the room, perfuming the air with a pungent coffee aroma.

Then the coffee beans were ground and boiled. Our server brought a tray with a decorative clay coffee pot and poured the coffee into small cups. The coffee was strong and had a rich roasted flavor, which cleared our palates from any lingering spices from our entrees.

The friendly staff was gracious in describing the food and making me feel comfortable and welcome. I was impressed with the care taken with the cooking and presentation of the food. The reverence for tradition, as evident in the coffee ceremony, makes for a memorable experience for the diner. It is apparent that there is a lot of pride in the recipes and in their presentation.

I walked into Queen of Sheba as an Ethiopian food neophyte. I left as a fan.

lweston@news-sentinel.com


This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Laura Weston-Elchert at lweston@news-sentinel.com, or call her at 461-8468.


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