Being that my collar is blue and my wallet is usually emptier than Al Bundy’s stomach this time of year, I try to cut down on frivolous spending where I can. Unfortunately, this usually means that going out to lavish restaurants during the holiday season is off the menu, pun intended.
However, when my lovely wife Zoe, who before meeting me was the complete opposite of a foodie, surviving mostly on Mac and Cheese from a box and pizza, suggested that we try Ethiopian food for dinner, I dug deep into my pockets and found the money to oblige.
Before Zoe could change her mind, I invited our foodie friend Shamus Mc Haggis, and made a reservation for three at Mesob, located at 515 Bloomfield Avenue in Montclair using Opentable.com. Since none of us had ever experienced Ethiopian cuisine before, I perused the internets for any and all information regarding this gastronomic treat. It seemed that not only did Mesob in Montclair get nothing but great reviews, but Ethiopian food in general seemed to be a hit all across the interwebs. I could not believe my eyes; apparently Ethiopian food is the one of very few topics on this planet that the internet has nothing bad to say about, much like cats and naked women.
I studied the menu with the concentration of a 7-year-old creating his Christmas list, so when we arrived at Mesob later that evening I had a general understanding of the food that I was about to consume. We did have some issues finding Mesob on Bloomfield Avenue, but we knew the general area thanks to our trusty iPhones, so we fought the world for a parking spot in downtown Montclair and snagged a spot about two blocks away in a parking garage. We walked toward Bloomfield Avenue and located the store front quite quickly on foot. The sign is somewhat small and in a strange font, so look for the red awning and you will be fine.
As we entered this modest yet roomy establishment a drool enticing smell wafted over us as we spoke to the hostess about our reservation. We were seated within seconds of our arrival and offered menus by the welcoming wait staff. As we situated ourselves, a waiter came to the table with a carafe of water, glasses, and a bottle opener for the cold six pack of craft beer and cider that we had brought with us, since Mesob is a BYOB establishment. The waiter opened three bottles for us and left the bottle opener at the table while we discussed the menu amongst ourselves.
On the ride over, I had already discussed the possibility of ordering the Taste of Mesob, which includes two starters, two chicken dishes, two beef dishes, one lamb dish, shrimp tibs, and any three sides from the vegetable entrees, all for just $95.00. I know this is slightly more expensive that my normal frugal foodie finds, but it is slightly harder to find Ethiopian food in this area than it is to find burgers and ribs. Zoe and Mr. Mc Haggis wholeheartedly agreed with this veritable smorgasbord of Ethiopian cuisine, the only task left was to pick which mouthwatering dishes would eventually don our plate.
After a longer deliberation than the jurors in the O.J. Simpson case, we decided upon, the TimaTim Fitfit (chopped injera, Ethiopian Bread, mixed with fresh diced tomatoes, onions, garlic, jalapenos, olive oil and lemon juice, served cold) and the Katenga (rolled strips of injera coated with Ethiopian pepper and clarified spiced butter) for our appetizers.
We then chose the Dora Kay Wat (a tender chicken leg simmered in a spicy sauce seasoned with spices and herbs served with a hardboiled egg) and Doro Tibs (scalloped Chicken breast marinated and sautéed with red onions, garlic, jalapeno pepper, fresh tomato, herbs, and spices) for our two chicken dishes. Followed by our lamb dish Lega Tibs(cubed boneless leg of lamb marinated and sautéed with onions, garlic, jalapenos, fresh tomato, herbs, and spices). As the for the beef courses, we decided upon Bozena Shiro (cubed prime beef simmered in spicy pureed yellow split peas) and Minchet Abish Kay Wet (finely chopped prime beef sautéed in Ethiopian clarified butter and summered in a spicy sauce seasoned with spices and fresh herbs).
If this did not seem like enough food already we still had to choose three veggies, Gomen (Fresh collard greens), Difen Misie Alicha (brown lentils), and Buticha (chickpeas with red onions, garlic, jalapeno peppers, olive oil, lemon juice, and spices). Mesob offers varying degrees of heat for dishes that are traditionally spicy so we ordered a few mild, a few medium, and two hot, so we could try them all.
As a side note, this impressive list of food barely scratches the surface of the menu provided by Mesob, which leads me to believe as the Governator once said, “I’ll be back.”
After ordering what seemed like enough food for 10 people, we sat back and enjoyed the soothing ambiance that is Mesob. Traditional Ethiopian music played softly in the background while we looked around the restaurant noticing all the Ethiopian textiles and artwork that adorned the walls. The wait staff only added to the calming vibe with their soft spoken tones and eager willingness to help. If Mesob reflects the tranquility of the Ethiopian lifestyle, it makes perfect sense why the peaceful Rastafari movement chose this country as their spiritual homeland. Mesob was winning me over and I had not even tasted one bite of food yet. That is until the appetizers arrived.
The first bite of Ethiopian food I would ever eat came in the form of Katenga. Katenga consists mainly of Injera, which is a white Ethiopian flatbread, similar to a crepe. This choice was rather fortuitous yet somewhat kismet because Injera is an intricate part to Ethiopian cuisine. It is not only eaten by itself as an appetizer but also is used as a plate to hold the Wat or stews that we ordered as our entrée and as a utensil to bring these stews to your mouth. The Katenga was fantastic and unlike anything I have ever eaten before. This spongy, sour, flatbread that easily defeats my favorite American multipurpose utensil, the spork, made us realize that we had waited entirely too long to embark on the magical food adventure that we were just starting.
After our appetizer dishes were cleared from the table, a massive round dish covered in a gigantic piece of Injera was delivered to our table. Then another waiter brought a large serving tray occupied by petite bowls full of the entrees that we had ordered. One by one, the waiter pragmatically spooned the courses onto our Injera plate, making sure that the dishes did not mix, while explaining each dish as he moved along. What we were left with afterward was the best smelling art I have ever had the privilege to be in the company of. At first, all of us were speechless, scared to damage the beautiful canvas that our waiter had just created on our table. But our curiosity and hunger got the best of us, and we dug into this masterpiece of Ethiopian delights.
As stated earlier, the injera is your utensil so no forks, spoons, or knives are presented with the meal, but if you don’t trust where your mates’ hands have been, you can request silverware. Zoe, Mc Haggis, and I opted to eat Ethiopian Style and began to rip small pieces of injera up and taste each dish one by one.
I was astonished by the variety of what was served to us. I thought that some of the concoctions would taste too similar due to the comparable spice palettes within each dish, but I was happily mistaken. Each stew tasted different, yet somehow they all danced together on my tongue like a finely tuned chorus line of yumminess. As we tried each and every dish, it seemed that the last one we ate was our favorite until we tasted the next one. Every bite brought new and exciting flavors and none of us could stop eating long enough to speak.
I could attempt to describe all the fantastic food that we shared that night at Mesob and smack your brain with a laundry list of adjectives for each creation that was expertly prepared by the Mesob Chefs, but I won’t. Instead I will tell you that this foodie voyage is exactly why I love food so much. I most likely will never have the opportunity to explore Ethiopia but thanks to the delightful people at Mesob, I can experience at least a piece of their culture one scrumptious bite at a time, and I assure you each bite is delectable.
I understand that Mesob’s prices might scare some of my readers away, but this restaurant is not just about food. Mesob offers you a chance to immerse yourself in a culture that is widely ignored and forgotten. If the food was half as good and the wait staff a quarter as pleasant, I would still happily pay the price of admission.
Overall: 4.5 out of 5
Taste: 5 out of 5
Presentation: 5 out of 5
Value: 3.5 out of 5