June 2, 2010 in Features

Queen of Sheba a new dining treat

Ethiopian cuisine a mix of spicy offerings and ceremonial dining
By The Spokesman-Review
 

Stewed meats, vegetables and greens are arranged on a large platter at the Queen of Sheba restaurant.
(Full-size photo)(All photos)

The Dish

The Dish appears monthly in the Food section. Send news releases, tips and suggestions for restaurant items to Lorie Hutson, Features Department, The Spokesman-Review, P.O. Box 2160, Spokane, WA 99210. Call (509) 459-5446, fax to (509) 459-5098 or send an e-mail to lorieh@ spokesman.com.

Sharing a meal takes on a whole new dimension with the opening of Queen of Sheba.

The restaurant, Spokane’s first taste of Ethiopian cuisine, serves customers dishes in the traditional communal style on a large platter. Instead of silverware, diners use pieces of flatbread called injera to scoop up fragrant bites of each dish and bring it into their mouths.

Almaz Ainuu opened the new restaurant on the main floor of the historic Flour Mill in early May. Ainuu worked as a preschool teacher for 17 years, the last five with the Central Valley School District, before she decided to follow her dream of opening a restaurant.

“A year ago, God put this in my heart,” she says. “That’s my passion, just to share my cuisine with Spokane.”

Ainuu grew up in Ethiopia. She worked for World Mission for several years and moved to Kenya to take a course from the Christian nonprofit Youth with a Mission when she met her husband-to-be Layne.

The couple lived in California before moving to Spokane for Layne’s job as an accessioning manager with PAML, a medical reference laboratory. Their children, Manoah and Manitet, are 15 and almost 13.

Ainuu says her native cuisine relies on layer upon layer of spices. The spicy meat dishes on her menu begin with a spiced clarified butter called nitër kebbéh. Ainuu mixes 10 spices into the butter and leaves it in the refrigerator for a week to let the flavors infuse before she clarifies it.

Vegetarian dishes are made with olive or canola oils instead of butter.

Onions (lots of onions), garlic, ginger, turmeric, fenugreek, cardamom, cloves, allspice and other flavors help build the flavors in many of the dishes.

Another Ethiopian cuisine essential is a spicy berberé that is made from a blend of red chili peppers and other spices. The imported spices fill large containers in the Queen of Sheba kitchen.

Even Ainuu’s black tea, served hot or cold, gets an infusion of cinnamon, clove, cardamom and ginger.

She says entertaining for friends over the years helped her perfect many of the dishes, which she makes from experience rather than following recipes.

One thing she says that has been difficult to see as a new restaurant owner is unfinished meals: “I hate to see people waste food because it represents a lot of work.”

Navigate the menu for spice by searching for the word “alich’a” to signify mild dishes. Spicy dishes are described as “we’t” or the menu description includes mention of berberé.

Many of the traditional Ethiopian foods are a thick stew. Some meat dishes are served on sizzling platters that heighten the already tantalizing aromas at Queen of Sheba.

Chickpeas, lentils, split peas and a variety of vegetables are featured among the vegetarian dishes. Beef, lamb and chicken are the meat offerings. Combination platters – meat, vegetarian or a mix – are a nice way to share several dishes.

A few messob, the traditional round and hourglass-shaped tables made of woven straw, are tucked into a corner of the small restaurant. Platters are brought to tables under the conical covering.

The platters are lined with injera and rolls of the flatbread are tucked between dishes. It is made daily at Queen of Sheba from teff, a grain native to Ethiopia known for being high in protein, iron, fiber and calcium.

Injera batter is fermented for two days and then thinned slightly before it is poured in great circles on a flat griddle to cook. It has a slightly tangy taste, a flavor similar to sourdough. (The bread also contains a bit of barley flour.)

Diners tear pieces of the bread and use it to scoop, pluck and tear food (even the meat and hard-boiled eggs) into bite-size morsels.

Don’t be shy. Ainuu patiently helps diners navigate the menu and offers encouragement for utensil-free dining. (She’ll bring individual dishes and silverware for those who would prefer it.)

Those who want the full Ethiopian dining experience can leave time for the coffee service after the meal.

Coffee beans are roasted over a flame and brewed in a jebena, a traditional clay coffee pot. The ceremony can last hours as three rounds of coffee are served. (The third round is said to bestow a blessing and it is therefore considered impolite to leave early.)

Ainuu will shorten the ceremony for those who request it.

Queen of Sheba is in Suite 426 of the Flour Mill, 621 W. Mallon Ave. It is open 11:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Sunday hours are 1 to 4 p.m.

Reach the restaurant at (509) 328-3958. The menu and other information can be found online at www.queenofsheba spokane.com.

Changes ahead for Luna, Café Marron

Café Marron will close midmonth as the restaurant changes hands.

Marcia and William Bond are selling the Browne’s Addition restaurant to Luna chef Anna Vogel and her partner Bethe Bowman.

Vogel, who was born in Switzerland, became the executive chef at Luna in early 2008. She worked for restaurants in Sydney, Australia; New York City and Boston, before moving to the Northwest to become Tom Douglas’ corporate chef in Seattle for 9 1/2 years.

Chef Brian Hutchins will retake the helm at Luna after Vogel’s departure mid-June. Hutchins, who served as Luna’s executive chef from 1998 to 2002, says he was honored the Bonds even considered his return.

“It just kind of feels like coming home,” Hutchins says. He starts this week and plans to work on the prix fixe dinner and summer menus.

The job he’s leaving at the Twigs Bistro and Martini Bar at Wandermere will be filled by Tony Usher, who was executive chef at the South Hill branch of Twigs.

Hutchins brings more experience to Luna this time. He left Spokane to open Brix in Coeur d’Alene and had made several other stops in the years since, including stints at Mizuna in Spokane, Whitehouse-Crawford in Walla Walla and as a guest chef at the James Beard House in New York City.

Marcia Bond says Vogel came to Spokane with plans to someday open a restaurant. “William and I are turning 70 this year and it just seems like it was meant to be,” she says.

Café Marron chef Nicholas St. Clair says his last day is June 13. He and his fiancée, a recent Gonzaga graduate, already had plans to move to the South.

St. Clair says he has his eye on a job at Bacchanalia, a James Beard award-winning restaurant in Atlanta.

No word yet on Vogel and Bowman’s plans for Café Marron. Bowman was the front of the house manager at Luna.

In the meantime, taste Vogel’s influence in the new bakery lunches menu at Luna, featuring bread from the restaurant’s Bouzies Bakery. Breakfast pastries and coffee are served starting at 7 a.m. on weekdays and 9 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday.

Among the new lunch offerings are a Mediterranean tuna sandwich with artichokes, capers and mayonnaise, served on baguette ($9), and a grilled vegetable sandwich with sun-dried tomato and basil pesto on focaccia ($10).

Salads range from $8 to $10 and include a Caesar, Luna’s signature salad, beet salad and a grilled panzanella bread salad. A daily salad sampler is $10.

Lunch entrees include ale-battered halibut and chips with caper remoulade ($14), vegetable lasagna ($12), naturally raised black angus steak with peppercorn sauce and frites ($14) or a daily quiche with soup or salad ($9).

Wild Sage chef goes to Sysco

Alexa Wilson, who helped create the award-winning cuisine at Wild Sage Bistro, has left the restaurant for a job as a corporate chef for Sysco.

Wild Sage co-owner David Wells says Wilson’s last day at the restaurant was Mother’s Day, which seemed appropriate because she had been talking about making a change so she could spend more time with her family.

A chef’s evening and weekend schedule is notoriously hard on family life. Wells says Wilson’s new job with food vendor Sysco will allow her a more regular daytime schedule.

“We all love her and wanted to support her,” Wells says.

Charlie Conner, who worked as sous chef with Wilson, has taken over the executive chef position.

Wild Sage recently received the Top Table award from the Spokane Regional Convention and Visitors Bureau for the second year.

There are no plans to change the menu or the restaurant concept, despite the rumors swirling, Wells says: “Wild Sage isn’t going to change.”

Small bites

•Over the last twenty years, the owners of O’Doherty’s Irish Grille have heard a lot of suggestions from their customers for menu items and recipes. Now, they’re sharing them.

Tim and Sam O’Doherty have created a menu insert that features customers Jack and Mary Farver and the recipe for their favorite Blue Cheese and Horseradish Burger.

The O’Dohertys say they wanted to honor customers and try out a few new dishes for the menu. They plan to switch it up with a new customer and recipe four times each year.

Customers can order the new burger from the menu for $9.95 or jot down the simple recipe. Have a recipe that deserves to be considered? Send it to timsandra@msn.com.

•Jimmy John’s Gourmet Sandwiches is now open at a second location in Spokane, 105 E. Mission Ave.

Owners Rick and Kathy Rocca opened the store near the corner of Mission and Ruby in mid-May. They also own the store in downtown Spokane at 601 W. Main Ave.

Everything for Jimmy John’s sandwiches is prepared fresh each day, including house-baked breads and freshly sliced meats and vegetables.

The store is open Sunday through Wednesday, 10:30 a.m. to 1 a.m., and Thursday through Saturday from 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 a.m. Delivery is available. Reach the store at (509) 327-3278

•Through June 13, Spokane-area Red Robin restaurants will give customers a free child identification kit with the purchase of a kids’ menu item.

Also, the restaurants will donate 50 cents from each meal to support the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s child safety initiatives.

The kits help encourage families to keep personal information, such as updated photographs, that law enforcement would need to help locate a missing child.

Participating Red Robin restaurants include 725 W. Main Ave., 9904 N. Newport Highway and 14736 E. Indiana Ave.

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