01 February 2009

Restaurant Mini Review: Asmara

There aren't that many places in Portland where one may find an entirely whole food vegetarian meal, but Asmara is certainly one of them. I knew about this place a few years ago, but never found the time to go. What a mistake. If it's your kind of thing, it certainly hits the spot. The owner, Asmeret Teklu, serves up a variety of Eritrean stews on a teff flour pancake. These are good, simple stews and veggie dishes with just enough chilis to make you slightly euphoric when you leave. You need to know what you're getting into here, so I'll take it from the top.

Everything one orders is served on a light, spongy, almost sourdough-like pancake made from teff flour—an "injera." Teff is far too small to hull, so it's always eaten as a whole food. The batter sits for three days, fermenting—hence the sourdoughness—and is then cooked like a crepe. The menu has a selection of chicken, beef, lamb and vegetarian stews. Pick one and you'll also get an extra veggie or bean stew to accompany it. Everything comes with a simple green salad dressed with an excellent vinaigrette. The heat in the dishes comes from berbere and, in some case, green chilis. There are no utensils; one eats everything in the Indian style by grabbing bits of food using the bread. She brings you a hot towel to clean your hands just before she brings the food.

Everything I had was excellent. It's simple food, done well, which is always a treat. Some highlights: the red lentil stew is exceptional, as is the spicy kale. By means of a "vegetarian sampler," I've since tried all the vegetarian stews and they are universally excellent with the possible exception of the spinach, which had a vaguely unpleasant flavor I couldn't identify.

Ms. Teklu is really nice. She taught me how to make the spicy kale and showed me how the injera are made and was generally excited to talk about her food.

Things I didn't try but hear are also wonderful: the lamb stews, mango juice and a powerful honey wine akin to mead.

Asmara: If you like simple, food with spice mixtures similar to, say, indian curries, and if you are searching for a whole food, vegetarian experience, this is highly recommended.

The picture doesn't do the meal justice, so don't let it put you off.


Dan B said...

It's right next to Herbs Gully (great buritos) on oak street


Dan B said...

oops... link:


Brad said...

Doh! Yes, that would be useful information. Thanks.

Kate. said...

I just found your blog from 'Accidental Vegetables,' and I see you are linking to mine, so thanks! I'll be sure to check back around.

Brad said...

Thanks, Kate!

Marya said...

Oh, I love Asmara!! Partly because I am a fiend for the collard greens. Thanks for the reminded, it's been forever since I've been there!

Unknown said...

Agreed! Both the food and service at Asmara are terrific. For those who eat meat, they have incredible lamb as well.