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Vegetarians in Paradise

 Dining in Paradise

Editors' Note: On this page in our January, 2002, issue we published a review of Langano Restaurant in Sherman Oaks. We are sorry to report that this excellent restaurant has closed its doors. They will be missed.

R: Since dining out with friends is much more fun than eating alone, we took our adventurous duo, John and Helen, on yet another gastronomic exploration to Langano Restaurant, a small, unassuming jewel that graces the San Fernando Valley in the form of a quiet little storefront in Sherman Oaks.

Langano Z: One year ago, Mimi and Sampson Yigezu opened the doors of their cozy little Ethiopian café called Langano, named after a popular vacation town in their country. Though they do not have an all-vegetarian restaurant, their numerous vegetarian selections offer the vegan diner a robust meal consisting of a colorful array of tasty Ethiopian stews called wots.

R: Mimi greeted us with a welcoming smile and gave us time to peruse the menu. We noticed that the "wots" were listed as cooked in spices and butter. This prompted us to ask Mimi if it was possible to prepare the dishes without the butter.

Z: She graciously explained that the dishes are actually cooked with vegetable oil and that she adds butter when her Ethiopian customers request it. Apparently, butter is a traditional flavoring typical of the cuisine.

R: We felt comforted that the butter would not be included in our meal and asked Mimi to bring us the Vegetarian Combo and add any extra vegetarian stews that were not normally included in the Combo. This was a special night out, and we didn't want to leave feeling that we had missed out on a delicious vegetarian specialty. We've enjoyed Ethiopian cuisine for many years and looked forward to another great meal.

Z: At this point we had a few minutes to notice the simple ambience and instantly got the message that food is their number one focus, décor of lesser importance. The walls are white and sparsely decorated with a few pieces of Ethiopian art. White tablecloths are covered by a thick piece of clear plastic and three-candle candelabras decorate each table. A few plants added greenery , and a messob, a traditional Ethiopian handwoven serving stand stood along the wall.

R: I became aware of the subtle background sounds of drum rhythms and soft guitar solos that were uniquely atypical of our familiar music. The reverberations of traditional classical Ethiopian music were gently lulling us. We soon recognized that we were not just out to dinner for the evening, rather we were invited into a cultural experience.

Z: We didn't have to wait long for our food. Mimi came to our table carrying our dinner on a large tray that covered a good portion of the table. Typical of Ethiopian style, the food is served on one tray from which everyone at the table partakes. Following Mimi was a serving attendant who presented each of us with our own small basket heaped with injera.

R: The tray itself was covered with injera, the typical bread of Ethiopia that consisted of a huge, soft, sponge-like pancake made from barley, wheat, and water. On top of the injera were several mounds of stews or wots that covered the surface of the pancake. Zel hauled out her trusty little notebook to help her remember all the little details of these succulent dishes.

Z: Our special combo consisted of Yemiser Wot, a zesty, flavorful lentil dish cooked in a red pepper sauce called berbere with seasonings so engaging we finished it all the way down to its every last saucy speck. Yeshiro Wot took center stage with its position right in the middle of the tray. This dish was basically the Yemiser Wot but ground into a fine, thick puree that seemed to enhance the already exceptional flavors.

R: Yedenech Atikelt, a real challenge to pronounce, was a homey combination of potatoes, carrots, and cabbage delicately seasoned to allow the flavors of the vegetables to come through. We certainly got our dark leafy greens as we scooped up tasty morsels of Yehabesha Gomen, steamed collards seasoned with garlic and green chiles. The customary way to embrace Ethiopian food is to tear off a piece of the injera and use it to scoop up a mouthful of stew. Our newly indoctrinated friends quickly got the hang of it as we all proceeded to tear, scoop, and utter ummms with regularity.

Chef Bird Z: There were two cold wots on the colorful tray, Keysirna Dinich, a beet and potato salad, and a Selatana Timatim, a salad of iceberg lettuce and tomatoes. To complete our vegetable selection there was Foseliana Carrot, a medley of steamed green beans, carrots and onions nicely seasoned in typical Ethiopian spices. We certainly didn't want for lack of vegetables.

R: Think we're finished? Not! We ate like royalty--perhaps even better. Considered an appetizer served cold was the Aziffa, a tasty lentil dish mixed with mustard and onions. And finally, the Yekik Alicha, yellow split peas stewed with garlic, ginger, and spices. Mimi noticed that we were running out of injera and quickly refilled our supply.

Z: In most restaurants where an individual dish is served to each person, it's easy to gauge how much food you are eating. Ethiopian style turns one loose on the food like a kid in a candy store, scooping up mouthful after mouthful because the flavors are so irresistible. The final result, you can imagine, is that you keep on eating even after your hypothalmus signals your brain that you're full.

R: We all experienced that same "I'm full but it's too good to stop" feeling. The irony is that Mimi suggested we order three dinners for the four of us. The portions were so ample we could have ordered two dinners and would have been perfectly satisfied. It's hard not to notice that we thoroughly enjoyed our dining experience and are delighted to have such a special treat in the San Fernando Valley where there are just a handful of opportunities to eat vegetarian.

Langano Restaurant
14838 Burbank Blvd., Sherman Oaks, CA 91411
Hours: Tuesday through Thursday 11:00 a.m. to 10:00 p. m.
Friday through Sunday 11:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m.
Closed Monday

Reviewed January 2002

Click here for past Dining in Paradise reviews

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