House of Tadu Ethiopian Kitchen....that's a lot of colorful stuff?
Just a few blocks from where we live is a burgeoning little neighborhood known as Mission Bay. When I first moved down round South Beach way, there really wasn't a lot going on in the area besides AT&T Park. But once UCSF opened, the area has blossomed quickly and become it's own named area of the city. Something useful for realtors at least. And while there has been an abundance of housing popping up, the basic infrastructure hasn't quite kept up with the growth.
By that I mean, a grocery store that can keep up (the Safeway at 4th St sucks!) and enough little shops and restaurants to make the area feel like a little walkable neighborhood. Having Spark Social SF, the food truck park, was a good start and slowly, other places have moved in, particularly restaurant wise, making it worth the effort to walk over and check out what is on offer.
Once such spot is a second location of Tadu, an Ethiopian restaurant that has graced the Tenderloin for a number years and gained a following. To be honest, I would see pictures of the food and was like, hmmm, looked like piles of mush and then they want you to eat with your fingers and this spongy, mushy bread thing. Just seemed like too much mush for me. Plus a comedians old joke about how Ethiopian food just looked like poo-poo in Pampers always stuck in my head and I just couldn't bring myself to venture to the Tenderloin of all places to try it.
Well, when they opened House of Tadu Ethiopian Kitchen on 4th St. in Mission Bay, I figured the time had come to give up any preconceptions I had about the food and give the place a try. After all, many people seemed to really like it so it must be good, right? I know I fell into that trap with Proposition Chicken, but this place seemed different enough for me to go twice to make sure I got a well round selection.
First time out, me and the SO met up with one of their friends who was visiting. Since we were all new to the place we opted on sharing a couple all in compassing dishes: the veggie combo and the meat combo.
Seems sharing is what it is all about with Ethiopian food which is the reason they put both combos on the same plate. Above on the top row is the meat: gomen besiga (collard greens with beef), lamb alicha wot (lamb curry) and minchet abish (ground beef). Each is interesting in its own way though mainly spicy is an overriding theme here. One I actually rather liked. The meats are slowed cooked and tender and the beef helps offset some of the bitterness in the greens. The curry is a slightly spicy yellow curry and it is the ground beef which will definitely clear the nostrils. Distinctly North African in their spices that are similar to some you would find in Moroccan and also Indian dishes.
The vegetarian options also did not lack for some kick. There was misir wot (spicy red lentils), key sir wot (beets and potatoes), kik alicha wot (yellow split pea stew), gomen (collard greens) and alicha tikil gomen (curry carrots, potatoes and cabbage). The first is super spicy and could use a glass of milk or yogurt to follow it up. I liked it but be careful if you are not into that kind of heat. The others were very earthy and hearty, like root vegetables usually are. While the veggies are tasty, cooked well, but outside of some small variations in texture, they are all kind of seasoned the same. Not a bad thing per se, but not a stand out like the red lentils.
We did still enjoy them and platters come with an endless supply of injera, the fermented sourdough flatbread with a kind of odd spongy look and texture. It is what you are supposed to use to scoop up the food and eat it. And it looks like this!
Kind of like using the last of your bread to sop up gravy, though here it is kind of a utensil replacement and not the easiest thing to master. I kind of gave up and just used a fork to put it on the bread (lazy American foolishness!) You end up eating a lot of the injera which does help you get full as the portions aren't necessarily all that big. Between the bloaty bread and veggies, plus all the water we drank because of the spice, our stomachs did feel extended afterwards.
A good thing i guess when you consider for Ethiopian food, the place isn't exactly cheap. The vegetarian combo will run you $15.90 and the meat $16.50. And then they combine them onto one plate instead of two separate ones, the whole share thing, meaning you then only get a small serving of the side of hummus like dip and the other dip which was kind of like a mashed eggplant hummus or something. Still not sure what it was, but I did kind of like it.
Of course, me and the SO did make a return trip with some visiting relatives and I totes forgot to ask them to put it all on separate plates just to see what it would look like. Thus I don't have a compare and contrast, but we did get a couple different dishes in addition to the vegetarian combo (AGAIN!) since some folks wanted their veggie fix.
Again they went with putting everything on one plate to "share", though sometimes you might not feel like sharing so just keep that in mind. The new dishes we tried were the regular kitfo which is ground beef cooked with butter(!) and spices and lamb tibs, cubed bits of lamb, onions, jalapenos and tomatoes sauteed in a berbere spice mix. Each, or in this case both, came with a side of gomen (the collards) Ayib cheese and a "salad" which was really some cut up romaine lettuce.
Both of these dishes were distinctly different. The ground beef was cooked medium rare as requested and you could definitely taste the butter it was cooked in so all kinds of bonus points from me. Meat and butter served up with collards, kind of an Atkins dream plate, though it does come on top of a layer of injera so trade offs but me and the SO kind of liked it. Simple, hearty and tasty, but there was the $14.99 cost to factor in too.
The lamb was the complete opposite of the beef and full of spice both savory and hot along with sweet onions and tender meat. Here is where some of that cheese came in handy to help with the heat. It is another dish where if you are not into spiciness, this could be too much for you. We enjoyed the flavor and mix of the dish, but echoes of above, cost on it was $15.90 for the portion size you see in the upper right between the ground beef and the veggies.
In essence, despite my own personal misconceptions about Ethiopian food, I actually really enjoyed pretty much everything we had at Tadu. As did the SO and the three different friends we took along for the adventure. The hard part about all of it was the price, I think it is kind expensive for what you get, particularly when they put everyone's entrees on one plate to share. Doesn't keep me from recommending the place though, but just know before you got. Of course I'm sure you could ask to make sure they keep dishes on separate plates, though it may make you come across as selfish since a tenet of Ethiopian food would be the sharing. Yeah, I know, that is coming from me, a person who will fork you if you try to get between me and my layer cake with lots of icing. We all have our things.