In the New York ethnic food pantheon, Ethiopian ranks somewhere between Mongolian and Dutch, which is a shame because it’s the most festive and communal dining experience out there. And Ghenet’s new Brooklyn location, an offshoot of the popular Soho eatery, is a fine and comfortable place to experience it.
The restaurant, cozy by Brooklyn standards, avoids kitschy ethnic-restaurant pitfalls, encasing the space in intricately stamped metal sheets, partitioning the warmly lit dining room with pillow-strewn benches from a small bar area. Start your meal with a strong glass of tej, a native honey wine similar to mead, or a complex Ethiopian beer instead of the saccharine house cocktails.
We started with two appetizers, both excellent but too much food considering the bounty awaiting us. Sambusa ($6), an Ethiopian delectable similar to samosa, was crunchy and spicy, as was Kitfo Tiklil ($11), raw seasoned beef rolled in spiced injera.
As for that injera, it’s the backbone of Ethiopian cuisine: massive flat sheets of spongy, slightly sour bread made from teff. It’s a dietary staple, serving as vessel and — primarily — utensil. Diners feast on bounteous main courses from a three-foot wide communal bowl, scooping out stewed and roasted meat and vegetables with pieces of injera. Not for the germ-phobic, it’s a uniquely rewarding way to share a meal with close friends.
The three of us ordered the Ghenet Combination for three ($46), seemingly the universal of fellow diners. Heaped on our platter were a chicken dish, a beef dish and seven of eight available vegetable creations, ranging from pleasingly bland to heady. Doro wett, a tender chicken quarter and boiled egg stewed in the Ethiopian national spice mixture, berbere, was a big hit. Unique to Ethiopia and Eritrea, berbere’s a mélange of chile, ginger, clove, coriander, ajwain, allspice, cardamom and rather a lot else, forming a smoky, pungent background to many hearty dishes.
Abundant mounds of lentils, split peas, collard greens, string beans, cabbage, potatoes and more, stewed or sautéed, all intricately flavored, rounded out the delightfully messy feast. Afterward, surrounded by scraps of injera and small puddles of multi-colored goo, we passed on dessert. We weren’t sated; we were completely stuffed. We rolled out and made our way to a cozy pub near 5th Street, hardly talking for the next half hour, sipping bitter beer to aid digestion, grateful for the cuisine of Ethiopia, our hardly dented wallets and our miraculously unstained clothing.