This weekend my brother and I were cruising through 17 Ave SE, or ‘International Avenue’ as they’ve rebranded it, and happened to drive by a distinctive sign proclaiming an African restaurant. Both of us being new to African cuisine, we promptly went in, and thanked our lucky stars that it was open on Sunday as so few places seem to be. Really for a large city with metropolitan pretentions, Calgary often lacks the cultural delights that other cities have, like late night dining, Sunday eating options or a vibrant core.
We went in and were able to grab a table near the window, which is awesome, because taking photos in a dimly lit restaurant really sucks. For the photos anyway. The menu is short and sweet, a breakfast section, mains and beverages. We started off with mango juice which seems to suit every meal it’s served with, but I was sorely tempted by a beer also. The interior is dusky, with a good selection of tables seating at least four, which is great, because I hate two-tops and find them cramped and uncomfortable. There were also plenty of locals inside, which is a decent sign of authenticity. Several families were sharing plates of food and several tables just hanging out.
Most of the dishes consisted of beef or lamb, cooked in a variety of ways, none of which I was familiar with. Yet the lamb spareribs at the bottom of the menu sang a siren song and to balance it out we got the sole veggie dish at the recommendation of our waitress. The food took a while to arrive, but was well worth it when it appeared.
The vegetarian dish appeared first, covering an enormous platter with two huge round slices of injera – a yeast risen flatbread with an amazing honeycomb texture that serves as the plate cover and utensil. Strips are torn off the edges and used to grab bitefuls of food. Within a few bites we got the hang of it, and utensils began to seem superfluous. From the top down we had injera salad – torn chunks of bread tossed with tiny bits of veggies and parsley in a tangy dressing. Very reminiscent of tabbouleh it was sharp and good. Then two lentil dishes – the red and yellow stews. Both were great if you enjoy dals or lentil curries, mild and delicious. The spinach was buttery and abundant, and could have used a tiny bit of garlic or lemon juice, but the carrot and potato curry beside it was amazing. It had those addictive flavors that the best curries have that leave you wanting more. The tossed salad in the middle was super fresh, flavorful and a perfect foil to the lamb that followed, despite its modest appearance it was gone first.
The lamb was served in a stylin’ cast iron brazier that kept the meat sizzling till the last bite. This is not boneless pieces served in a genteel fashion, but a carnivorean delight of crispy charred edges, bones to gnaw and a spicy sauce for dipping. If you’re someone who won’t enjoy getting dirty, this whole meal is not for you. The lamb was quite good, but would have been better with a stronger marinade or with a heavier hand of seasoning.
We were both waaaay too full for dessert, and couldn’t even finish the entire order, getting some leftovers to go. The dishes would handily serve three, or two voracious appetites, which we typically bring. Overall my impression is that I’m not dying to go back, but if I was in the area and someone else expressed an interest in a meal, I’d be tying my bib on right quick.
3515 17 Ave SE