Feast from famine
Reno, NV 85912
There’s a line about Ethiopian restaurants in Rob Reiner’s 1989 flick When Harry Met Sally in which Harry (Billy Crystal) cracks, “Hey, I didn’t know that they had food in Ethiopia? This will be a quick meal. I’ll order two empty plates, and we can leave.”
Though the human catastrophes of famine, starvation and repressive, murderous political regimes are usually reliable sources of humor, the endless variations on the Ethiopian food joke that come whenever I mention the new Ethiopian eatery in town, Zagol, just aren’t funny anymore. It’s remotely possible that they never were. So stop it, already.
I have been waiting a long time for an Ethiopian restaurant to come to Reno, and now that Zagol is here I’m happy to report that it does not disappoint. Here’s a quick primer to debunk you empty-plate comedians: The basics of Ethiopian food are spicy lamb, beef or vegetarian dishes served atop a large platter of injera, a slightly sour, spongy flatbread. You eat with your hands, using smaller pieces of injera to scoop up the meat or vegetables. Part of the fun of Ethiopian food is that it’s a communal dining experience. Usually everyone eats from the same large injera platter. This can be a little dangerous, as the sharing appears to foster a weird cult-like bond and behavior.
When my girlfriend, Sara, and our friend Paul arrived, we discovered a large group of people, most of whom we were acquainted with, some we even considered friends, to be engaged in some kind of secret society-type ritual based on “positive peer-pressure.” They were, apparently, helping one another set and achieve their goals. This was totally shocking.
Since Paul and I both tend to be domineering provocateurs, more prone to heckling and belittlement than support and encouragement, we thought it best to give the growth-seekers a wide berth, lest we unduly interfere.
Zagol has an appealing, relaxed atmosphere. There are brightly colored African wall hangings and decorations and some nice Ethiopian jazz played on the sound system. The waitress was sweet, attentive and friendly.
We ordered the vegetarian combination for $24.99. It came with three entrees and a salad, nearly enough food for four people on its own. Our choices were gomen (a collard greens dish), kik alicha (split peas) and mesir wat (a stunning, spicy lentil dish, flavored with hints of ginger and garlic.)
Our food consisted of moderately spicy dishes, simplistic but incredibly well-seasoned, and proof that veggie-heads really can’t hope for better fare than Ethiopian.
Of course, for us omnivorous types, the real highlights were the meat dishes. For lamb-lovers, Zagol has ye beg tibs for $12.75, which is lamb sauteed with onions, peppers and spices. Cubed and raw, gored gored for $12.99, which I admittedly ordered because of the eye-catching name, turned out to be one of the best dishes I’ve had all year: 3-D squares of beef sauteed with herbal butter and chili pepper.
The only problem at Zagol is that they don’t have an alcohol license yet, but they assured us that this was one Ethiopian drought that could be remedied soon. They do serve traditional Ethiopian coffee and, even without the booze, Zagol has made it onto my short list of restaurants.
Zagol is great, unusual food that should appeal to nerdy support groups and other gastronomic eccentrics.