Blue Nile Ethiopian Restaurant Review: Houston Zagat Winner
Adventure in Dining
Sometimes, when I watch television—in particular, the Food Network—my curiosity about unfamiliar world cuisines is sparked. Houston's Blue Nile Ethiopian restaurant allowed me to explore one of those cuisines.
My curiosity about this cuisine was inspired by Melissa d’Arabian (who won season 5 of Food Network Star) describing the dish called doro wot on The Best Thing I Ever Ate when singling out “finger foods.” It made me want to try it.
That is what led my journey, accompanied by a good friend to this restaurant in Houston.
Sharing a Lunch
My friend is also an adventurous soul when it comes to sampling foods of which she is unfamiliar, so we decided to share a lunch. Sharing is the operative word because this was to be a communal finger-food experience.
Clean hands are mandatory before beginning a meal such as this. After watching the television program, I made sure to have some wet wipes in my purse just for some extra cleansing purposes. They were utilized; in fact, several of them were!
Location and Hours
Located outside of 610 Loop, this family-owned restaurant was opened in 1994 and has been rated many times by Zagat as well as by readers of the Houston Chronicle as being representative of fine award-winning Ethiopian cuisine.
It is in a nondescript commercial strip shopping center with paintings on the exterior glass representing scenery found in the country of Ethiopia. It is located east of Gessner, on the north side of the street.
Address and Phone:
- 9400 Richmond Avenue, Houston, Texas
- 713-782-6882 (reservations accepted)
- Weekdays: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.
- Weekends: 9 a.m. to 11 p.m.
When my friend and I entered the doors, it was like entering into another world. Exotic aromas of incense and spices tantalized our senses. Accenting the warm-colored walls are various types of Ethiopian art. Some of it was framed and presented under glass, and some of it appeared tethered to wooden sticks.
Other artistic touches include some hand-carved pieces and musical instruments along with basketry and pottery.
A beautiful young woman greeted us in an amicable and warm, welcoming manner. She was dressed in what I assume is native costuming a long white dress with some appearing African embellishments which conformed nicely to her tall and slender body. Our pretty and convivial hostess led us to a white-clothed table with white cloth napkins and comfortable wooden chairs.
After looking around at the ethnically inspired and nicely decorated room, we started to peruse the items on the menu, none of which were familiar to us. Categories included vegetarian as well as meat items.
Doro wat, the food item viewed and shown on The Food Network, was on my list of things to try. Other than that, I had no idea what might be appealing.
Our hostess, who was also our server that day, came to the rescue. When she found out that this was our first time to visit the restaurant much less try any Ethiopian food, she suggested that we try the Vegetarian Sampler and the Meat Sampler. It would be presented all together on one plate for my friend and me to share. We agreed that this was probably a smart move and decided to take her up on her suggestion.
Vegetarian and Meat Lover’s Delight
Food items served to us on that one large platter included the following:
- Gomen (chopped collard greens with garlic and green pepper)
- Atkilt Wot (a cabbage potato mixture that we found pleasing)
- Yemissir Wot (a good tasting red lentil preparation)
- Green lentils prepared with oil, onions, and spices
- Kik Alicha (split peas, ours were yellow split peas with onion and spices)
- Doro Wot (the chicken in berbere sauce that lured us to this restaurant)
- Alicha Minchetabish (minced beef with spices)
- Yessiga Wot (beef cubes in berbere sauce and special herbs and spices)
- House Salad (lettuce leaves with tomato lightly dressed in oil and vinegar)
- Green Beans with onion, garlic, chopped tomatoes and pieces of carrot
As one can probably tell from this listing, my friend and I were not about to go hungry on this particular day!
Just what is doro wot? It is chicken prepared in a berbere sauce. There are many recipes for berbere sauce, and doro wot available to view online. Berbere sauces ready-made can also be purchased if one has access to stores selling international ingredients.
Suffice it to say that berbere sauce, and therefore doro wot, is a vibrant and sumptuously sauced entrée with loads of ingredients rounding out those robust flavors. While some hot peppers are a part of the dish, it was not overly spicy to our taste-buds.
On the table was a salt shaker and also one filled with a red substance that we determined had some cayenne pepper and perhaps other spices which would have turned up the heat.
The doro wot featured on The Food Network was from a restaurant in Los Angeles, and the chef took much time and lots of stirring in its preparation. Whether prep time at the Blue Nile requires a similarly long time (or not) in making this dish, one thing that my friend and I agreed upon was that it is delicious.
This spongy crepe-like bread called Injera sat as a base under all of our food selections. It was also served to each of us on separate plates to utilize in place of cutlery.
Using our fingers and this bread to scoop up the food is what truly makes dining at this restaurant an occasion to remember. One rips off little pieces of this spongy creation and uses it to pick up pieces of whatever one might be eating. Since this is a communal dining affair, this is where the clean hands and general respect about manners and hygiene come into play. We did see one diner who was eating his meal with a fork. Most other patrons, like us, were using the injera bread as intended.
The smallest grain in the world, called teff, is what is used to make injera bread. Teff is very high in protein and also contains calcium, iron, and fiber as well as all eight amino acids useful in human health (among other attributes), so it is an excellent food source.
Much like sourdough bread, injera is fermented, thus giving the final product a slightly sour taste. My fellow dining companion said that she could happily munch on Injera anytime just by itself. We both found it to be pleasing to our taste buds.
Ethiopia and The Blue Nile
The area of Ethiopia is one of the earliest locations on earth for humankind. We gradually spread out from there to the rest of the world over time. Some people say that the Blue Nile, which is one of the major tributaries of the Nile River, originated in the Garden of Eden.
Ethiopia has a rich history and beautiful natural surroundings. Three of the world’s major religions all reside there. Christians, Muslims, and Jewish people follow their creeds with the Christians being in the majority.
Getting to spend a bit of time in an Ethiopian restaurant, like Houston’s Blue Nile, which has Ethiopian music softly playing, Ethiopian art adorning the floors and walls, and typical Ethiopian food upon which to feast is like getting to enjoy a small microcosm of the vast country of Ethiopia on the other side of the world. At least it will have to suffice for me since no travel plans are in the making for a trip to Ethiopia any time in the foreseeable future.
Location of Ethiopia in Africa
Iced water with lemon automatically comes to the table. We also chose to have some Ethiopian tea instead of regular iced tea to accompany our lunch. It comes in a footed glass mug with fragrantly scented hot water and a teabag of Ethiopian tea. For those familiar with chai tea, the cups of Ethiopian tea had a similar flavor, slightly spicy with a hint of sweetness.
We divided our leftover food into two take-home containers after we had eaten all that we could of this spicy and delicious lunch.
What we experienced is that the Injera bread underlying the various dishes becomes infused with the different flavors and is scrumptious all on its own. Thus nothing goes to waste with this meal except for the chicken bone from the doro wot.
Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony
There is another experience I hope to have on another occasion. They have a coffee ceremony for a price of $20. One gets to participate in the pan-roasting of the coffee beans as well as the grinding and brewing. One of Ethiopia’s most significant exports is coffee. Taking part in one of their coffee ceremonies sounds like it might be fun.
Hopefully, you enjoyed my friend’s and my adventure in dining at the Blue Nile.
Below is a video that showcases some of Ethiopia's culture, landmarks, and other information with accompanying music.
Have you ever eaten Ethiopian food? Do you like it or would you be willing to try it?
© 2020 Peggy Woods