Kevin Marple


At Desta Ethiopian Restaurant, All Hail the Spice

Desta rules with its spice blends, achieving dimensions other Ethiopian restaurants simply do not.

A shabby grand piano lurks in the shadows by the front door. The rest of Desta’s interior is sparsely ornamented, minimal and contemporary, with none of the cozy ambience you might find at Addis Ababa or Lalibela. But the dining method is still traditional. A circle of spongy injera bread, with its multitude of air bubbles to soak up sauces, is your plate and silverware. Tear off pieces; scoop with your fingers.

Other Ethiopian restaurants may emphasize texture or brightness. They are after something different here. The kitchen rules with its spice blends, achieving dimensions others simply do not.

Cabbage and mellow yellow split peas rumble deeply with ginger. Gomen, collard greens, are stewed into a ragged patch that is gently enticing though still pungent. Shiro is a smooth reflecting pool of rosy lentils, more polished and subtle than most after long cooking has rounded all the edges.

Fit-fit, like a torn injera salad, is a cool mélange of tomato and spices, while the chicken and hard-cooked egg of doro wat drink up the darkly lush sauce of long broken-down tomatoes, onions, and ginger, resembling a burning sunset over a pool of oil. This is not diet food. Butter, used liberally, makes the dishes rich and stirring. Berbere spice leaves your fingers stained red, your mind filled with reveries of cardamom and heat.