Food is fiery utensil is edible

Restaurant: Some like it hot. Blue Nile is for those who like it hotter.

November 10, 1996|By Elizabeth Large | Elizabeth Large,SUN RESTAURANT CRITIC

You shrug when the waiter in a Thai restaurant warns you that three asterisks means "unbearably hot." You never pick out the chili peppers in Sichuan beef. India's fieriest curries have you begging for more.

You're ready for the Blue Nile, Baltimore's new Ethiopian restaurant.

Of course, you have to find it first. The sandwich board at the corner of 21st and North Charles streets calls it "The Hidden Restaurant." That's true only because it's supposed to be at 2101 N. Charles, but the entrance is half a block down on 21st Street. Maybe the owner feels a Charles Street address sounds tonier.

Although it's neat and clean, the Blue Nile isn't the fanciest restaurant you've ever been to. But it's palatial compared with Liza's, Baltimore's other Ethiopian eatery. (Now closed, Liza's consisted of three tables behind a grocery store.) There are cheerful red tablecloths and curtains and a few decorative accessories from Africa on the walls. That's about it for atmosphere.

Actually, the Blue Nile looks a little like an old-fashioned Hampden dining spot, but in Hampden the plates and silverware wouldn't consist of an oversized pancake/bread called injera. And the food wouldn't scorch your eyeballs.

Go ahead. Order an appetizer like the senige karia. (This is a green pepper stuffed with chopped onion. Of course, because this is an Ethiopian restaurant, the green pepper is a green jalapeno pepper.) Then pick an entree or two. All the food will arrive at once and be arranged together on the flat, spongy, pleasantly sour-tasting injera.

Besides the plate-injera, each person is given his or her own pancake as cutlery. You tear off a piece, lay it on the bite of food you're interested in and scoop it up. When you've finished the food, you eat the plate. Particularly appealing if you hate to do dishes.

We ordered lamb, chicken and a vegetarian combination. When our dinner was ready, the waitress brought the injera to the table and arranged on it everything we had ordered. First the vegetarian combination: little mounds of jazzed-up collard greens, split peas in a pepper sauce, lentils in a seriously hot sauce, and carrots and green beans cooked to mush. Next came our "first courses," also mounded on the bread/pancake -- a couple of not-very-interesting salads (one iceberg lettuce and tomato; one tomato, chopped jalapeno pepper and onion) and the onion-stuffed jalapeno. I let one of my guests try the pepper, someone younger and more daring than I. She wept a little.

Last to be arranged on the injera were our meat choices. The chicken dish, yedoro key watt, was one skimpy chicken leg and a hard-boiled egg in an incendiary but otherwise pedestrian sauce. Neither the chicken nor the egg was easy for three people to share without a knife.

I recommend instead the "Blue Nile Special Yebeg Tibs," cubes of lamb in a dark, intense sauce that had as much flavor as fire. It was the high point of our meal.

We ended with Ethiopian coffee. (If you want dessert, you'll have to get it elsewhere.) The Ethiopian coffee tasted exactly like regular coffee, but the presentation was much more spectacular. The coffee was brought on a little tray in a decorative pot, with burning incense on the side.

Blue Nile

Where: 2101 N. Charles St.

Hours: Open every day for lunch and dinner

nTC Prices: Appetizers: 75 cents-$3.50; entrees: $5.99-$8.75; major credit cards

Call: (410) 783-0982

Pub Date: 11/10/96

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