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Lucy’s Café in Boston serves up Ethiopian treats

Arts Editorial Assistant

Published: Monday, January 23, 2012

Updated: Tuesday, January 24, 2012 00:01

As I walked into Lucy's Ethiopian Café from the snowy night, I was instantly struck by the anonymity of the place. With a chalkboard-style menu taking up an entire wall and several two-person tables lining the room, I found myself afraid that this was just going to be another coffee shop on Massachusetts Avenue in Boston.

My two friends and I waited patiently for the sole waiter to come out from behind the counter. He smiled and led us to another room—one I hadn't noticed before.

The Gossip Room was so labeled in both English and what I could only assume was Amharic, although it could just as easily have been another of the 90 languages spoken in Ethiopia. As soon as I was over the threshold, I realized how mistaken I had been in my first impression.

The walls of this room were lined with wooden flute instruments and drum-like containers bearing five or six leather sinews sprawled spider-like against the warm orange paint. Artists' drawings plastered one side and on the other were traditional masks, hand-woven bowls and beautiful tapestries depicting dark-skinned men and women.

Our hands and faces still stinging from the 10-minute walk from the shuttle stop, we ordered some peanut tea. None of us had ever heard of it before, and we were all curious. It arrived in tall mugs, steaming white-yellow and smelling wonderfully of peanuts. It turned out to be delicious, like a melted peanut butter dessert, and I greedily inhaled the familiar scent with every sip.

I was the only one among my friends who had eaten in an Ethiopian restaurant before, so I explained to them how the food usually comes as a combination of spreads puddled onto a tangy sourdough flatbread called injera. As per custom, the food is eaten with one's hands, using the bread as a scooping device.

I ordered the green combo, which consisted of spinach mixed with chopped potatoes and herbs, gomen (spiced collared greens) and Ethiopian-style potato salad, which turned out to be cubes of potato with black pepper and carrot. My meal arrived in a three-cupped dish with the injera rolled into decorative folds on the side. My favorite of the combination was the spinach dish, which had just the right balance of spinach—sour and garlic. The potato salad was good, too, although I found it a bit strange to pick up and eat chunks of potato with pieces of bread. I thought the texture of the gomen was too sharp, scratching at my throat uncomfortably with every swallow. My friend, however, claimed it to be her favorite of all the options. The injera was perfect, served room temperature, spongy and well proportioned.

One of my friends got the attkilt combo. Attkilt is a type of cabbage salad, made with carrots, potatoes, peppers and onions. Her plate also came with gomen and miser wot, a popular lentil recipe with spicy hot berbere sauce. Being a vegetarian, she was pleased that the menu included so many veggie-filled options and happily ate every bite of her meal.

My other friend ordered che che bsa, which the waiter kindly taught us to pronounce. Her dinner arrived in a small casserole dish and consisted of a bread-like stuffing with spicy yogurt on top. She found it to be really rich and opted to take some home at the end but nevertheless enjoyed it. I tried a taste and thought it was really spicy, burning my mouth for several minutes afterward, but I am not a person who likes very hot foods.

Our waiter was attentive and helpful, sure to ask us of any allergies before the meal. The food came out from the kitchen quickly and, although the restaurant was quite busy during the 6:30 p.m. time slot, he returned often to ask us if we needed anything.

The one mishap of the evening was that he brought us the incorrect (and a more expensive) bill, but when we approached him about it, he quickly apologized and fixed his mistake. He even let us divide the check three ways, something that most restaurants seem to get frustrated about.

Lucy's Ethiopian Café, so titled after the common name of AL 288-1, the skeleton discovered in Ethiopia who is said to have lived 3.2 million years ago, was well worth the cold, especially for the peanut tea. I enjoyed its thick, frothy encompassment of one of my favorite foods and will not forget it any time soon.


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