I have a weakness for Ethiopian food. It was the first unusual ethnic cuisine from years ago, and it may have been some of the best. So in celebration of another trip around the sun, we decided to take in one of the many Ethiopian restaurants around Toronto. Nunu has sought to set itself apart as just slightly a higher class and the slightest bit different from the usual (usual being a strange term for Ethiopian food in almost any other city outside Africa), so we thought we’d see exactly what makes them different.
The first thing that marked them as different was that the dishes were not served with extra injera. Injera is a sour sponge bread that you use as utensils for the meal, tearing off small chunks and using it to pick up the meats and vegetables. Typically, a circle of injera serves as the foundation for the plate on which everything rests, but extra injera is folded and left to the side. This was an option at Nunu, but it was an extra cost, a fact that surprised me greatly. Since we do tend to overeat at Ethiopian restaurants, we decided to work with what we had and see if more was necessary later.
Given that we always like to try a little bit of everything, their Misto Misto seemed like the obvious choice. It is exactly that – a little bit of everything. Well, maybe not everything. The selection is a bit meat heavy, giving short shrift to the vegetable dishes. In fact, there wasn’t a single dish of lentils, a fact that was somewhat disappointing.
While I’ve had Ethiopian food a number of times, I am still not expert in identifying the various dishes, so I may not be completely accurate in what I’m describing. I hope you’ll pardon any mistakes I make here.
Central to the dish was the salad, which was perhaps the most atypical and fancy part of the meal. It didn’t feel terribly Ethiopian inspired and was sort of a mixed dish to me. The two most notable parts of it were the toasted onions and the cilantro. The latter was at times overwhelming, and with my wife and I both suffering the soap-taste allergy, it was unpleasant every few bites. We both loved the texture that the onions provided, but I found them to taste somewhat burnt. Beyond these two elements, the salad, while having a few more varieties of greens, remained somewhat typical.
The Doro Wat, a chicken leg marinated in white wine, garlic, ginger, and rosemary, was missing the usual hard boiled egg alongside it, a fact that was a tad disheartening simply for tradition’s sake. On the other hand, the flavor was the most vibrant we have ever had, leaving us having a hard time leaving it alone. Of course, it was also the hottest and spiciest we’ve ever had, which meant that we had to leave it alone and regularly grab some water and injera to soothe burning tongues.
The Doro Alicha, I believe, chicken marinated in garlic, ginger, and tumeric, was quite different in flavor from the Doro Wat, but the quality was quite similar. Not quite as hot, but still very spicy, but also highly flavorful.
Since we’re on a roll with chicken, we were also quite happy with the Doro Tibs, chicken marinated in lemon, white wine, garlic, and rosemary. It seemed in some ways fairly similar to certain Chinese lemon chicken dishes I’ve had, save that the lemon flavoring was soaked into the chicken pieces rather than in a sauce. The zest of the citrus was sharp but much more mild than the heat from the other chicken dishes, giving a very succulent flavor that I appreciated.
The Tibs, sirloin beef marinated in garlic, ginger, and rosemary, was utterly unlike the Doro Tibs, which makes the names difficult to make sense of. Regardless, it was likewise, quite flavorful, but did not stand out from the rest of the plate.
One dish appeared to be ground beef of some sort, making me think it may have been the Key Wat, beef marinated in red wine, garlic, and ginger, though I could be wrong. Like the Tibs, it didn’t stand out, though the different wine seemed to give a slightly different tang to it. Again, very flavorful, as so many Ethiopian meat dishes are.
The only vegetarian dishes I could identify were the Keysir, sweet potato and beet salad, and the Fasolia, green beans and carrots. I looked forward to the beets but was disappointed as they seemed to lack flavor. Perhaps they had been roasted too long? At the same time, we appreciated the potato as another means of toning down the heat from the poultry dishes. The green beans and carrots were fair, but like the other couple of vegetable dishes I could not identify, they were unremarkable, perhaps even tending towards the bland.
At the end of the meal, there was approximately one serving left, which we asked to be boxed up. This was both surprising in one sense and not in another. Usually, we walk away with at least two more servings to take home, and it seemed strange to not have significantly more food left at the end. However, given that we did not opt to order extra injera, we were a bit more careful with the bread we used and ate, so it made sense that there would be so much remaining.
In the end, I think I was a tad disappointed with our experience at Nunu. They try to put themselves forward as a bit more upscale than most Ethiopian restaurants, which got my hopes up for something a little interesting, but they aren’t terribly successful in making this happen other than by providing scented towels to wash hands after the meal. In addition, while what they did with the chicken dishes was something akin to magic, the vegetarian were lacking, not only in flavor, but even in content given the absence of lentils.