The Blue Nile remains a destination for tasty Ethiopian dining experience
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The Blue Nile is an ethnic restaurant with staying power. Specializing in Ethiopian cuisine, it started out in Kerrytown more than two decades ago before it moved to its current downtown location.
Habte Dadi purchased it 10 years ago, interested in owning a restaurant that served the food of his native country. He says it's managed to remain successful because of the good food and service it provides, and it helps that it's the only restaurant in Ann Arbor providing an authentic Ethiopian dining experience.
The Blue Nile is a cheery spot, with light streaming through the front windows. Large suns are painted on the yellow walls, while calming Ethiopian music plays in the background. Servers are dressed in traditional Ethiopian garb, with long skirts and cotton blouses.
221 E. Washington St., Ann Arbor
- Hours: Tuesday-Thursday, lunch 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m., dinner 5-10 p.m.; Friday, lunch 11:30 a..m.-3 p.m., dinner 4-11 p.m.; Saturday, lunch 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m., dinner 4-11 p.m.; Sunday, dinner 3-9 p.m.
- Plastic: Visa, Mastercard, American Express, Discover.
- Liquor: Yes.
- Prices: Moderate.
- Noise level: Quiet.
- Wheelchair access: Yes.
I enjoyed the spiced Ethiopian tea, which had an abundance of cinnamon, along with rose hips, orange and lemon peel and cloves—a winning, sweet combination. We tried it served both hot and cold, and it was great either way. Refills of beverages are free, and we had our tea refilled several times.
The most popular option for dinner is the Ethiopian feast, which is $18.90 for an all-you-can-eat extravaganza and includes most items on the menu. There are both vegetarian and meat versions. The ultimate in family-style dining, the food is served on one large, circular platter that everyone shares. You use your hands to rip the Injera bread, then put the various food on top of it. The server will refill any one of your dishes when you want more.
The meat is placed in the center of the platter, with numerous vegetarian dishes surrounding it. This is a great place to frequent if you're vegetarian, since it has a plethora of hearty choices; none contain any dairy products. In fact, I preferred the vegetarian options to the meat choices we sampled.
These included vegetables that I often find bland — collard greens as well as cabbage that had the consistency of Thai drunken noodles. Both of these vegetables were prepared with onions, garlic and jalapeno peppers and were flavorful and delicious. However, in both these dishes and the mixed vegetables, jalapeno peppers advertised on the menu as part of the entree didn't provide any kick. That didn't stop me from enjoying the mixed vegetables, perfect comfort food made up of potatoes, carrots and green beans.
Other dishes were spicier, including the red lentils and the spicy split peas. As someone who prefers milder food, I appreciated that there were also non-spicy versions of both dishes. The mild split peas were roasted in a sauce made of onions, oil and tumeric. They were thick, creamy and addicting.
The feast comes with two types of chicken, spicy and mild, with drumsticks for each version. This reminded me slightly of the Indian tandoor chicken, due to the berbere sauce. Cooked with butter and marinated in lemon juice overnight, the chicken was moist, tasty and slid off the bone. The only dish that I disliked was the spicy beef, which I found overcooked and bitter.
Though we were stuffed from feasting, we ordered a refreshing palate cleanser, the raspberry sorbet. The chocolate cake resembled German chocolate cake, as it contained coconut. Condensed and evaporated milk, along with heavy cream, made it moist and delicious. Cheesecake had a thin consistency and could have used more spices or sugar. It was fine, though not outstanding.
We were one of only a handful of parties dining on a weeknight. While the server initially appeared quickly and delivered the feasts in a reasonable amount of time, she took quite some time to bring food refills. Still, all servers were extremely pleasant.
I've often been surprised that The Blue Nile dinner menu has stayed the same for all the years the restaurant has been in operation. I would welcome the chance to try some other types of Ethiopian dishes; that's been my only issue with this restaurant. But there is clearly a reason for its longevity. Blue Nile continues to add to the diversity of Ann Arbor's quality dining scene.
Julie Halpert reviews restaurants for AnnArbor.com.