Review: Blue Nile Restaurant

Tasty new flavors from Ethiopia
By ROBERT NADEAU  |  January 9, 2012
3.0 3.0 Stars
main2_BlueNile_480

We surveyed the vegetarian column with a "JP veggie combo" ($10.99/one person; $19.99/two) of four dishes. Shiro wet ($8.50 à la carte) was the spiciest, as berbere really shines on a dish that is mostly roast chickpea flour with fresh ginger and garlic. Yekik alicha ($7.50) is a kind of dal with yellow split peas holding shape in a much milder ginger curry, a good safety-stop dish. Tikil gommon ($8.99) similarly allows the flavors of cabbage and potatoes to come though a mild curry leaning on cardamom. Gomen wet ($7.50), based on chopped collards, runs a little spicier.

One of the best-known Ethiopian dishes, doro wet ($10.95), was good but not exceptional. It comes as a restaurant dish invariably as bowl of sauce with a chicken leg and a hard-boiled egg. I've always wondered: what happens to the rest of the chicken, and how do you eat all the sauce? "On lots of injera" is the likely answer.

On the meat side, I sampled again with a "Centre St. combination" ($14.99) of lega tibs and kitfo (each $10.95 when ordered on its own). The former are basically tenderloin tips, cut smaller, and browned with onions and chilies, which you can pick out, making this another good dish for beginners. The latter is minced beef, quite lean despite a menu mention of herbed butter, with a pretty good burn, the kind that might rate maybe two pepper silhouettes in a serious Thai restaurant. This is well below average spicing in Ethiopia, according to guests who had traveled there, so if you need more chili in your life, you may want to ask, or order in Amharic. Siga wet ($9.95) is a similar mince-beef stew in a berbere-based red sauce, just good hearty eating.

Blue Nile has no desserts, but they do have beer ($3.50) and wine, of which the former is more likely with this food. Reportedly, a Jamaica Plain supplier is producing a locavore mead in the style of Ethiopian "tej." Tea ($3.50) is nicely served, but Ethiopian coffee ($4) invokes a ceremony. First the cups and vessels are removed from a high shelf, then arranged in long lines on a special tabletop shelf. Incense is lit. (This is a small room, so I would suggest eating early to avoid the incense of the first coffee ceremony.) It is balsam-type incense, rather Christmassy, but interestingly good with coffee. For all of that, the tiny cups of coffee aren't strong, like Turkish coffee, but clearer, almost like black tea. Ethiopia is the home of the coffee tree, so this may be how it was first brewed.

The space is lively with modern Ethiopian background music, and your fellow diners may be old fans of the family's earlier restaurant, Fasika, in nearby Mission Hill. The room has folk-art tablecloths under glass, folk instruments and pictures on the wall, and a bronzed tin ceiling. Given 25 seats, they cannot accommodate all readers of this column tonight, so clip this review and save. Call in advance. They will do take-out, and I'd guess they will soon be doing a lot more of that.

Robert Nadeau can be reached at  robtnadeau@aol.com.

BLUE NILE RESTAURANT | 389 Centre St, Jamaica Plain | ***/$ | 617.522.6453 | Open Tues-Sun, 11 am-11 pm | DI, MC, VI | Beer and Wine | Sidewalk-Level Access | No Valet Parking

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