Heading to Africa


The winter storm we had was not going to keep me from the warmer climes of my chosen Ethiopian restaurant in Charlotte.  It did add a bit of adventure when I got to the Red Sea Restaurant and Bar and the parking lot was masquerading as an ice rink.  There were two cars in the lot and two people on the sidewalk chiseling at the ice with inadequate shovels but loads of enthusiasm.
One of the shovel wielders was the waiter of the restaurant and the only person I saw other than the Ethiopian cab driver who was lunching there as well.  That the cabby was eating there gave me hope  the food would be close to what you might expect from Ethiopia.  The walls had some African art on the walls and plenty of pictures of what I would assume is Ethiopia.  The bar of “and Bar” fame had maybe 4 stools and looked like the façade from a tiki bar in some tourist resort.
The menu was interesting with vegetarian and meat options.  I went with the Ye Beg Tebs, which was cubed lamb cooked with peppers, onions and spices.  As seen in the photo below it came with a salad, a cabbage & carrot dish and some chopped collards all atop a circle of injera bread.  I got a glass of honey wine to try as well.
If you haven’t experienced Ethiopian before the way you are supposed to eat it is to tear a piece of the injera and pick up your food with it.  In addition in some cultures you only eat with one hand, typically the right as the left is considered unclean.  Judging by the cabby in the corner that held true here as well; right hand food, left hand phone.  I really didn’t get the technique of tearing and grabbing / scooping the food but the fork stayed untouched and I managed to eat until I was full. I think being just about the only person in the place made it easier dive in and not be self-conscious of eating with my hand and the inevitable messiness.
As for the food the salad lettuce and tomatoes with a drizzle of oil and vinegar.  The lamb was chewy but flavorful.  I asked for it medium heat since you never know what maximum is at a place and I don’t enjoy having so much spice my tongue gets sensitive enough to distinguish and flinch at every molecule consumed.  There was enough heat bring a sweat to the brow so it that was a win.  The cabbage and carrots had some light curry and had a bit of oil on them and they were cooked soft but no mushy.  The greens were well cooked and seasoned as well an had an almost creamy texture and no bitterness you sometimes get.  The injera was light and spongy fairly neutral in taste, as you’d probably expect for a food that is also a utensil.
The honey wine was an appealing gold color and as sweet as the name implies.  It was light and pleasant but 1 glass was plenty.
When I was obviously done the gentleman waiting on me asked if I’d like to try their coffee and I was certainly up for that.  It took a while as they brew it a cup at a time.  I honestly expected one of those kid’s tea party size cups with a strong coffee in it.  What he came back with was a full sized cup with some really strong coffee and a container of sugar.  I took that first sip after adding a little sugar and it was awesome.  He stood watching me to see how I would react and asked if it was too strong.  When I said it wasn’t we spent a bit of time talking about his first experience and disappointment at getting a cup of coffee here.  “It was like coffee flavored tea” was his impression.
Then we discussed the other more traditional table or mesob pictured below.  It is woven basket and he pointed to a picture of a hut behind me and said since they still often lived in those they didn’t have room for tables like mine and with the wicker they could easily store it up off the floor.

For a first experience I’d have to say it was a nice one.  The guy was friendly and helpful without being too chatty, the food was tasty and I got to work on my one handed, no fork, eating skills.  I’d definitely recommend this place.

Here is there website.  It is kind of awful but fortunately the skill is in the food and hospitality if not in the tech.


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Getting started

Up First

Peru was the first stamp in the Culinary Passport.  Represented by Viva Chicken in Ballantyne.
The restaurant is in a shopping area with lots of restaurants and shops.  The traffic patterns and parking are odd but I didn’t have any problem finding a spot.  The restaurant was fairly busy and obviously a popular place as I heard several people talking about previous trips.  You place your order and they give you a number and will bring your food to the table.  They pack a lot of seats in the space so even though it was busy there was no problem finding a spot.  It is a bit loud so if you are looking for a place for a quiet lunch, keep moving.

I went with the Pollo a la Brasa, rotisserie chicken, marinated in their signature herbs and spices and for sides decided on the quinoa and canary beans, both advertised as organic if that is your thing.  I got the maracuya, passion fruit punch, to wash it down.

The chicken was flavorful by itself but they have three sauces you can try.  It was convenient that the sauces were self service and you could pump them into little cups.  I tried the mild yellow and medium green.  The yellow Aji Amarillo was mild as advertised and a bit tangy.  The green huacatay is made from Peruvian black mint and herbs with just a bit of a kick and was my favorite of the two.
The quinoa caught me off guard because it was a cold dish.  It was made with red quinoa, onions and some other items.  It was a bit like a potato salad with quinoa instead of potatoes.  After the surprise of it being cold I decided I could definitely eat it again.
Canary beans were new to me and I was interested to see if I could figure out where on the canary they came from.  Still a mystery.  They were peppery and like most other white beans to me.  Good balance to the cold quinoa.
Overall my verdict is the food was good and definitely worth visiting again.  I didn’t get a Peruvian vibe from décor but they were good at moving the traffic in and out.
Here’s the link to their website.


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