The Ethiopian restaurants around Rochester have been in flux the last year or so. When I first started learning about the cuisine, Abyssinia was the only game in town and a visit for my friend’s birthday was my first experience only having heard of the berbere spice blend and seasoned raw meat up until that point. The concept intrigued me but what I actually ate was an eye opener and whetted my appetite for more. Unfortunately they soon closed and we were left without a traditional style Ethiopian place for a long while. Luckily, the last year has brought a waterfall of three new openings to fill the void including the return of Abyssinia in the up and coming restaurant filled Mount Hope Plaza. I made a trip out there last week to see how they compared to their new competition.
We stopped by on a quiet weekday and took our seats in the newly remodeled dining area. Comfortable and decidedly not modern with animal accents and tourism posters but still pleasant to my senses. We ordered the Abyssinia Special I for two which consists of Doro We’t, Yebeg We’t, Tibs Alicha and Spinach Gomen (by our request). Even though that is a good haul of food by itself the combo also comes with 3 vegetable based sides including Yatakilt We’t, Mesir We’t and Kik Alicha and a big basket full of rolled injera to grab at all the stews.
Sampling the injera, I was impressed by the dense and airy consistency and the strong sourness of the pancake looking flat bread. Of the meats, my favorite was the yebeg we’t (lamb cooked with berbere) with mild spice and a very savory sauce. The doro we’t (chicken drumstick and egg with berbere) was tender in a similar sauce was also tasty but I’ve got a thing for lamb. Tibs Alicha (beef cooked with turmeric) was a touch on the tough side for my tastes but still acceptable with the clean sauce. All the sauces have a good amount of oil (likely in the form of butter [edit: my friend Naz commented that it is likely the Ethiopian version of clarified butter called niter kibbeh. And now you know!]) and are a touch heavy without the veggie elements. All the sauces soak into the injera and those moist bites are some of the best on the whole plate.
To my eyes, the standouts are the vegetable focused items led by the spinach gomen. Braised spinach with plenty of garlic and onion and a well balanced acidity level just popped with flavor and was my favorite item on the plate. Mesir We’t and Kik Alicha were soft and well cooked without completely turning into mush. They worked well separately and together with the braised meats everything sings.
We came in hungry but almost all the injera and the food disappeared quickly and completely satisfied us. After finishing our meal, I’d say that Abyssinia is our current favorite Ethiopian restaurant in town. We still have to try Zemeta and Natural Oasis to get a more complete look at the competition, but for now Abyssinia leads the pack for us!