Tastes of Ethiopia, bar none
Fasika is an Ethiopian restaurant that has settled into half of a low brick building in East Somerville, its cinnamon-colored walls and African decor sharing space — separated only by a glass wall of windows — with a bar. This means you might eat at a mesob, the traditional round straw-woven table, perched on a low carved wooden stool, while watching the Coors sign change colors across the way. On our first visit, with a 5-year-old in tow, we’re about to enter the bar instead of the restaurant when a flush-faced man exits. “You looking for the restaurant?’’ he asks, and points to the correct door. “You don’t want to bring a kid in here.’’
That night, the bar is crowded and rowdy for a bit, voices singing loudly to the music. But then it empties and Fasika becomes quieter. On our second visit, on a Thursday night, the bar is pretty mellow, and we forget it’s there. (Until we need the restroom, which requires crossing over to the bar.) The food distracts us from our surroundings. Ayeb be-gomen ($4) sounds bland but is a wonderful surprise: creamy cottage cheese mixed with chopped collard greens and spices. This simple appetizer is almost too delicate for the sourness of the injera, the spongy flatbread made from fermented teff flour. In traditional Ethiopian fashion, our waitress at Fasika delivers appetizers and entrees on a giant disk of injera, as well as a plate with a few extra rounds for scooping up our food without utensils. Sambosa ($4.50), an appetizer of spiced ground beef wrapped in dough and fried, is less memorable, resembling an Indian samosa, but more bland.
The culinary highlight of two visits to Fasika is kitfo ($11.95), a classic dish similar to steak tartare. “Would you like that cooked medium?’’ our waitress asks. “Otherwise it comes raw.’’ We request the traditional version, USDA recommendations be damned. And it is spectacular, rich and velvety in a way that is foreign to cooked meat. We find ourselves wiping up every last juicy bite with injera.
We are surprised to see vegetable curry ($9.50) on the menu and it turns out not so different from Asian curries. This one is packed with eggplant, zucchini, summer squash, and onions. Ye-michet abish ($10.95) is a mild dish for those wary of high-powered Ethiopian spice, a stew of ground beef and ginger. Doro wat alicha ($11.95) is another gently spiced dish, chicken cooked in a turmeric sauce, along with whole hard-boiled eggs turned greenish-yellow by the stew.
Dessert choices are sparse. Baklava (pictured, $3) is honey-strewn and decadent. We head home with kitfo on our mind.