For those who are geographically challenged, like me, Djibouti is a small nation localed in the Horn of Africa alongside Eritrea, Somalia, and Ethiopia. An unknown land to many, perhaps, in all my travels, I've never come across a restaurant that features this country's cuisine. So, free of any prior expectation, I headed to Goda Café, a new Minneapolis spot that advertises itself as offering an introduction to Djib home cooking. There, I experienced several dishes that are different from what's commonplace in Djibouti's neighboring countries.
One pleasant surprise was the barris iyo digaag, a Djib version of blackened chicken breast–tender strips rubbed with a mixture of curry, nutmeg, turmeric, and cayenne and then grilled. The dish is served with a saucer of homemade Creaole-style sauce, stewed vegetables, and the national staple of basmatic–a heap of saffron-accented rice. This Djib pilau also provides the underpinning for the kaluun iyo barris and the barris iyo ari. The first is a grilled fish—head, tail, and all—that is marinated in olive oil, garlic, rosemary, and fennel, then grilled and topped with sun-dried tomato. It's a bony fish, and a lot of careful picking is required, but it's well worth the effort. The second dish is a showstopper featuring goat. It's all but guaranteed to dispel any negative preconceptions regarding this increasingly popular meat. Preparation starts the day before as assorted bone-in cus are boiled in a bouquet garni-style broth. The goat is braised overnight, seared, and served fajita style on a sizzling platter. I was impressed by the wonderfully succulent and mild character of this treat, not gamey in the least. Equally superlative is a spicy home-made hot sauce called basaas that accompanies the dish.
For those squeamish about whole fish and goat, the menu offers a lengthy assortment of burgers, sandwiches, and dinner plates. There are also the ubiquitous northeast African favorites of spaghetti with meat sauce and fettucine Alfredo, legacies of the region's colonization by the Italians. And what aspiring Saharan menu would be complete without a version of sambusa–triangular pastry turnovers? Here they're made with spicy ground beef and are as plumply stuffed and satisfying as can be. A bowl of slaw-like dipping sauce made from goat creame, cucumber, onions, and hot peppers adds an extra dimension.
Arguably Goda's greatest strength is owner Moussa Doualeh. He's not only a veteran of numerous local kitchens, but he's also the consummate host. Most likely, he'll welcome you with a complementary bowl of fragrant chicken soup and keep you smiling with his two thumbs up signaling joyful enthusiasm. This is a clean, comfortable storefront café that my guests and I genuinely enjoyed.
Lucy's Ethiopian Restaurant
Lucy's Ethiopian Restaurant, in the Seward neighborhood, has taken over a former Indian restaurant. The name may seem surprising at first, but a quick Google search reveals that there are at least three other restaurants around the country with a similar nae. It refers to the skeletal remains of the earliest hominid that were discovered in Ethiopia in 1974 and reportedly designated Lucy as a result of the repeated playing of "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" during the ensuing celebration.
As Ethiopian restaurants go, the local Lucy's is very solid. Flavorings are bold, and the representative collection of meat and vegetarian dishes delivers distinctive tastes. Perhaps the best example is Lucy's tibs–sautéed meat (we chose lamb) accented with rosemary, an herbal dimension I haven't previously encourntered in this dish. Kitfo, a generous serving of ground lean beef prepared from raw to well done and seasoned with spiced butter, cardamom, and hot chili peppers, is wickedly spicy. And one other distinctive option to consider is the refreshing fruit smoothie of five juices–it's the perfect complement to the skillfully flavored food.
On my initial visit, I was disappointed by the lack of an all-inclusive combination platter option, which is often the best way to enjoy a place like this. When the owner, an outgoing transplant named Nurobetselot Erdillo, came around at the end of the meal to ask hw we enjoyed ourselves, I gave her my feedback. She assured me that she'd be happy to compose a combination platter, and when I returned for my second vsiit and requested one, she delivered on her promise.
Although it didn't include either of the Lucy's special dishes, it was a balanced and representative collection of Ethipoian favorites. We decided it would be called "Peter's Combination," and it might be listed on the new menu if the restaurant is preparing to print. If not, just ask for it.
The one area where Lucy's might use some work is service. Neither of the family members who waited on us was comfortably conversant, and there seemed to be a bit of indifference regarding table maintenance.
Where to Find Them
3400 Nicollet Ave., Mpls., 612-823-3535
Lucy's Ethiopian Restaurant:
3025 Franklin Ave. E., Mpls., 612-344-5829