Sunday, March 21, 2010

Celebrating Greek Orthodox Easter at Taverna Nikos

Last year I celebrated Greek Orthodox Easter at Taverna Nikos, even though I'm not Greek and I'm not in the least bit religious. Well, I did once believe in the Easter Bunny. Does that count? The event involved food and dyed Easter eggs, so of course I had to be there. Each person dining at the restaurant that day got a bright red hard-boiled Easter egg for egg jousting. You hit your egg against the eggs of your dining companions and the one that doesn't get cracked is the winner and its owner can expect good luck for the rest of the year.

Last year I remember I was recovering from a cold, so I really appreciated the lamb soup. I will be looking forward to it again, too.

My 2nd Most Faithful Reader had sliced lamb. I'm sure my Most Faithful Reader had calamari or crab cakes, as she always does.

I am a huge fan of chocolate eclairs and I remember that this one was very good. Last night Chef George Kastanias said he was planning to make them again. He's really looking forward to the soup, though.

If you're interested in competing for eggcellent luck on April 4th and want to have some of the lamb dishes that George makes just for Easter, then be sure to make your reservations by April 2nd. See the Taverna Nikos website for more information.

Disclosure: Now that bloggers are required by law to mention free goods and services they have received relating to their blog posts, I need to get with it. I have, on occasion, received free food at Taverna Nikos since I started dining there in 1992. Bill Bakis, co-owner of both Nikos locations, hired a waiter that presciently anticipated the astounding growth in popularity of the Internets and that I would start writing a blog that mostly focuses on food by randomly giving my MFRs and me free food. (DW, if you're reading this, hey there!) We also went to his bridal shower where we received copious amounts of Village Salad (now known as Nikos Salad) for free. Chef George's mom flew here from Greece just to bake me a cake and give me a hug. Finally, I should also disclose that Chef George regularly asks my MFR to bake pound cakes for him so he will have something to eat for breakfast. She bakes them, too. For free. Well, I don't know if I'm required by law to tell you that, but isn't that odd?

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Queen of Sheba

For the second installment of the New Year's Resolution Restaurant Series, I'll write about Queen of Sheba, in Chapel Hill. The restaurant, situated among the many fine restaurants in Timberlyne shopping center, serves Ethiopian fare.

I'd never tried Ethiopian food before, so my first visit was particularly exciting. Unfortunately, I was coming down with a cold, so I didn't think that my tastebueds or olfactory senses appreciated it nearly as much as I had hoped. We ordered two meat dishes, Yedoro Watt, chicken, and Minchetabesh, beef. We also ordered a vegetarian combination for one, which included four different salads and a red lentil dish, Yesmir Kay Watt. Yedoro Watt is the national dish of Ethiopia, so my dining companions definitely thought I should give that a try. It was delicious, with the meat falling off the bone, which is good when you don't have any eating utensils. This is obviously the place to go during a drought, because there are fewer items to go in their dishwasher.

For those of you who haven't eaten Ethiopian food either, it is served on and with injera, which is a spongy flatbread made from teff, traditionally grown in Ethiopia. The texture reminds me strongly of a sea sponge or some other sea creature, but it's the perfect compliment to all the dishes. You tear off small pieces and attempt to pick up the food, which is generally a pureed and mushy substance, for a lack of a more appetizing phrase coming to mind. On my second visit, I learned that it makes sense to use as small pieces of injera is possible, so you don't fill up on the bread.

Google Earth Evangelist (GEE) is the one who gave me this sage advice (although recently she's become more of a Poll Everywhere Evangelist, but I won't be using that acronym) when she joined me there last week. We started off with Ayib Begomen as an appetizer. This is made with a special cottage cheese made from buttermilk curds, hot pepper and herbs. This was extremely good.

We followed that with two vegetarian dishes, the red lentil dish that I liked best during my previous visit, Yesmir Kay Watt, and Atkilt Watt, green beans with carrots and potatoes. I loved the red lentils and they tasted much more flavorful when I could smell them. Our meal also came with two sides, which are the chef's choice. We had a Yeshimbera, which is a bright yellow chickpea salad with onions, lemon juice and olive oil and Yeavocado, an avocado and tomato salad. Both sides were excellent, but I thought the Yeshimbera was absolutely wonderful. Fortunately, GEE didn't like it all that much, because of the all the onions, so there was a lot more for me.

Overall, I'm eager to go back yet again. Their menu describes the restaurant as welcoming and friendly and that is a very accurate description. The chef and owner, Friesh Dabei, lights up the cozy restaurant with her smile and frequently visits the table to ensure a positive dining experience. I'm hoping to go there for lunch on a Saturday, because that would be the only time when I could try their Ethiopian coffee without staying up more than half the night.