I've been wrong for a while about Etete. A couple years back, I went to Etete, before it was remodeled, or had been written up by everyone and their brother and I had a horrible experience. The food was lackluster and the service was bad -- so bad I almost walked out. So, with so many choices in DC for Ethiopian food, I never went back.
Meanwhile, everyone has been talking about it like it's the greatest Ethiopian food you can get in DC. Many blogs have written about it; The Post; Washingtonian; Food and Wine. I've been wondering what happened that first time I went there so long ago. Was it some kind of fluke? Did I happen to walk into the place next door by mistake? I had to know.
We had a chance to stop by Etete last week. Amy has been craving Ethiopian food for a while now and we just happened to be over in the U Street area. With as much as we've all heard about Etete, I was surprised that we were able to walk in and sit down immediately. The seating is first come first serve, and the tables are very close together.A large group of boisterous friends having a great time were seated at the table right next to us, but we didn't mind. However, mood and atmosphere are probably not the best reasons to go here.
As I mentioned before, the restaurant has been remodeled since we were last there. You used to be able to sit at the bar and that's gone now, which can be a good thing or a bad thing depending on whether or not you're someone who likes to sit alone at a bar to eat. As part of the remodel, the owners added seating upstairs too.
Amy only wanted vegetarian dishes, but I was in the mood for some Kitfo so we ordered both. I was very curious what Etete's Special Kitfo. What made is so special? The server asked how I wanted it cooked, raw, medium, or well. I can't imagine eating kitfo cooked. I know the first time I ordered it at an Ethiopian restaurant, I was nervous. Eating raw beef is always a bit of a risk, but someone once put it to me this way. "What's the difference between kitfo and steak tartare?"
If your a vegetarian eating with non-vegetarian people, you should note that Etete (and most other Ethiopian restaurants for that matter) bring out the dishes all on the same plate. So it's likely that once everyone starts digging in with their injera that your vegetarian lentil dish will get mixed in with some of the sauces from the meat dishes. My kitfo was in the middle and all of Amy's various vegetarian dishes were surrounding it: red and yellow lentils; shaved cabbage and carrots; mustard, garlic and onion lentils; and tomatoes and onions.
I have to say that all of our food was really excellent. The kitfo was very tender and lean, and the flavors were a perfect combination of butter and spice, yet you could still taste the flavor of the meat. The special seasoned cottage cheeses were a nice compliment as well. I was mixing in some of Amy's vegetarian dishes and everything just went wonderfully together or by itself. We ate everything on the plate and I had room for more so we ate the injera that they cover the plate with.
(Actually, writing about this one an empty stomach is making me want to go back very soon.)
The service was fine. I mean, I'm not looking for 4 or 5 star treatment at a place like this, but I'm mainly looking for the server to come by and check on us once is a while to make sure that everything is okay and and that we don't need anything else. The servers did all of that pretty well. The only issue we had the whole night is that the Coke that Amy ordered initially was completely frozen and somehow shaken up at the same time. When she opened it, it fizzed up all over the place, but because it was frozen, she couldn't open it all the way so it just continued to fizz and fizz. The tables next to us noticed and were giving us their napkins, but there wasn't enough and it was about the run off the table onto our laps. The servers seemed completely oblivious as they walked by several times until I yelled out "Help!". It was actually quite comical.
I also ordered some honey wine for the first time, but I probably won't again. It was too sweet for my taste. I can see how it contrasts some of the spicier Ethiopian dishes OK, but I'd much rather prefer a good lager with Ethiopian food.
I think it's safe to say that our first visit, like the Coke "incident" this time, was somewhat of a fluke. I probably should've gone back to Etete sooner, but like I said, there are so many options for Ethiopian food in DC that it was hard to, which really shows how hard it can be for restaurants. One bad experience can turn a diner off for a long time. I'm happy to say we'll be going back soon.
1942 9th Street NW
Washington DC 20009
Dress Code: Very Casual
Parking: Street Parking can sometimes be found
Closest Metro: U Street
Reservations: Not Taken
Baby-Child friendly rating: 2 diapers. They have child seats, but that's about it when it comes to kids. Not kids menu or anything like that, so unless you think your child will eat Tibs or Wat, you should probably think twice about it.