One question I am always asked when someone first finds out I review restaurants.
"Is there any kind of food you don't like?"
And even though I was the pickiest child in the universe and didn't eat peanut butter until I was in college, the answer is, really, no.
"There are some foods I do not prefer," is my usual answer. "Ethiopian food."
Now I've changed my mind.
This weekend we tried a tiny new restaurant called Red Sea in Sugarhouse. It's hard to find; the address is on 2100 South, but it's behind those storefronts. You have to turn north on 800 and into the parking lot to find Red Sea. And when I say "tiny," I mean a cook and a server.
I found it because the owner is a friend of mine, an Eritrean refugee whose life story is amazing. But here we're only concerned with the latest chapter: Rozina and her oldest son Enoch have opened this Ethiopian/Eritrean restaurant. If you don't know, Eritrea is right next to Ethiopia; the two countries have been fighting since forever. Nevertheless, their cuisines are similar.
Inside, Red Sea is pretty much bare bones, a clean, neat space brightened by prints on the walls and curtains at the windows. No liquor license.
We started with sambusas and if they sound familiar, it's because yes, they are a lot like Indian samosas. Red Sea's version has more sophisticated, lighter pastry packets enclosing either ground meat or a vegetable mixture, both tasty.
There are meat, chicken and soon-to-be lamb dishes, as well as five different vegetarian selections, ranging from vegetable stews to lentils to okra. You can order single entrees–prices are mostly between $9 and $12, at dinner. We asked for a sampler platter and that's the best way to go if you don't know your way around Ethiopian food, or even if you're like me and just think you do. The platter is lined with injera, the fermented, crepe-like bread made from teff you use to scoop up the different stews. You can order more injera and there are forks for those too squeamish to divide a chicken leg or a hard-boiled egg among three people using the equivalent of a wet napkin.
"Clammy" used to be my go-to adjective for injera, but this was different from other versions I've tasted–it wasn't clammy and it had a more substantial texture and taste. Likewise, where the Ethiopian stews I've had in the pasta ranged from hot to not hot as their only flavor, these, the kelwa derho (chicken), the okra stew, the lentils all had more complex aromas and tastes.
Of course, I may only have eaten at really bad Ethiopian restaurants. In fact, that's likely. I had to review the ones in Dallas and they certainly never inspired me to seek out the cuisine elsewhere.
But it's not just friendship that made me like Red Sea. I've eaten at many friends' restaurants that serve icky food. If I hadn't liked this tiny, unusual little place, I'd have kept my mouth shut.
As it is, I'm proud to introduce you to Rozina and Enoch, and I hope you like their food, too.
Red Sea; 815 E. 2100 South; Salt Lake City; 801-486-1140