Gene Lee: Mena, new Ethiopian restaurant off Buford Highway
A friend of mine recently took me to this new Ethiopian restaurant located off of Clairmont Road and Buford Highway, and in the back of a developing deli/market called Bethlehem Market Place. I say “developing” because dear Mother Hubbard, their cupboards are bare.
Regardless, the market was irrelevant to my cause this past weekend because I wanted to try the attached Ethiopian restaurant called Mena. It’s situated in the back of the deli, and is a vibrant dining room of colors complemented with high energy modern Eritrean music.
We struggled with our waitress a bit as her English was limited, but were helped by the very friendly owner of the deli and restaurant. His English was strong and he came by and explained his various dish ingredients, and the restaurant’s process for making injera – the spongy flat bread made of teff (grass grain known for its high iron content) traditionally used to eat Ethiopian food. The bread itself is flimsy porous sheet, almost like a thin blanket, and a bit sour in taste. You are suppose to tear off a palm-sized piece of injera, and with your right hand maneuver some food into it, dip into provided spices (if you want), and then pop it into your mouth.
On the restaurant’s menu, there are three dishes that contain raw meat. I went with their kitfo, which is like a seasoned and oily mash of ground meat. It’s similar to French-style steak tartare where the biggest difference (other than the oily seasoning) is that most tartare I’ve had tend to be hand-chopped or lightly pulsed. Mena’s kitfo seems to be machine processed, and almost pasty at times. You get a lot for what you pay for, and we barely put a dent in it. One thing you can’t tell from the picture is that it comes with a small scoop of Mena’s house-made cottage cheese served on the side that paired well with the spices of the meat.
My wife opted for the kitchen’s awaze tibs, which are cooked cubes of beef and bell pepper in their awaze sauce (spiced hot pepper paste). I enjoyed soaking bits of injera in the warm sauce that contained a multitude of wonderful flavors. The beef tibs were also well flavored throughout and each scooped-up mouthful was tender to the bite.
Another one of my friends got the kitchen’s kilil, or lamb stew that had rolled up sheets of injera and bone-in pieces of lamb – including a few bits of lamb intestine here and there. This broth was delicious. It was hearty and spiced with fresh chopped pieces of jalapeno pepper.
And the one plate that all of my dining companions collectively agreed on revisiting is Mena’s vegetable combo platter. It’s a huge serving of six different vegetable offerings such as spiced green lentils, processed chickpeas, stewed collards and cabbage, salad with an oily vinaigrette dressing, and one other reddish seasoned mesh that I forgot to identify.
I even saw a goorsha go down between two diners, which I initially misunderstood as some sort of undefined intimate display of feeding. It’s basically an Ethiopian custom where one diner rolls food up in a piece of injera and directly feeds it into another diner’s mouth. I must have enjoyed the meal from the get-go because I goorsha’d myself until I couldn’t eat anymore.
Mena, 10 a.m.-11 p.m. Mondays-Sundays. 3680 Clairmont Road, Atlanta. 770-936-8460. $.
– by Gene Lee, Food and More blog