Z: Owner and chef Rahel Woldmedhin is not new to the restaurant business. She was the original owner of Messob, the Ethiopian restaurant just next door. While her previous experience operating Messob focused on cuisine for omnivores, Rahel made the bold decision to open a new restaurant that offers her native cuisine with an all-vegan menu. New to the vegan path, she is experiencing renewed energy and improved health that many of us enjoy regularly.
R: The menu is an artful expression of vivid colors and appealing design. Since we brought along a pair of friends who share our embrace of Ethiopian cuisine, we ordered the giant Hudade Special Combo that included a sampling of all the dishes on the menu.
Z: Always eager to indulge our palates with exotic flavors, we began by exploring Rahel's unique beverage offerings. While Suff contains a base of sunflower seeds, Besso's main ingredient is barley. A third thirst quencher, Telba, combines both the barley and sunflower seeds in addition to flaxseeds. Each of the beverages was creamy and foamy, subtly sweet and understated.
R: The comfortable surroundings offer the diner an intimate, warm, and relaxing experience. The walls are dressed in two-tone beige and sprinkled with paintings and African artwork. A grass hut style roof divides the restaurant from the small spice shop at the rear of the long, narrow room.
Z: Green table linens and large plants bring a coziness to the room that features a trim around the top of the wall in the colors of the Ethiopian flag. The nearby kitchen was sending out spicy essences that stirred our hunger.
R: Rahel soon presented us our feast on a huge round platter that nearly engulfed the entire table. Before plunging in we paused to savor the beauty of the presentation. The constellation of vibrant colors featuring deep greens, rusty oranges, and yellow ochre in contrast to the various shades of beige, brown, and burnt sienna were a photographer's dream. We didn't waste the moment--out came the camera to capture the stunning display. One could call it a garden of ragout in full bloom.
Z: Accompanying the platter of Ethiopian stews, called wots, were individual baskets of Injera, the traditional bread in the form of large round, thin, spongelike pancakes folded into quarters. Eating Ethiopian style involves tearing off a small portion of Injera and using it to scoop up a portion of stew. The Injera becomes the utensil in place of the fork. The only difference is that each bite is accompanied by a separate piece of delicious Injera with its distinct sourdough flavor.
R: Rahel's Injera stands apart from that served at the other Ethiopian restaurants on the street. While many restaurants prepare their Injera from wheat flour, Rahel's is authentically made from teff, the traditional grain that originated in Ethiopia. This unique grain has the distinction of being the tiniest in the world.
Z: The first bite I savored was a Yemiser Kik Wot, zesty split lentils stewed in red pepper sauce and spices that offered a rich complexity of flavors. Then I tasted the Yeabesha Gomen Wot, a collard greens stew tastefully heightened with garlic and green pepper. Soon I found my Injera-lined fingers gravitating to the Yefasoulia Wet, a mixed vegetable stew that combined string beans, carrots, potatoes, and onions deliciously seasoned with garlic, ginger, and turmeric powder.
R: We had eaten Ethiopian food many times before but had never encountered this variety of offerings. New to my repertoire was the Yemiten Shiro Wot, a ragout of powdered chickpeas seasoned with berbere, the traditional red pepper sauce indigenous to Ethiopian cuisine. Another unfamiliar dish was the whole lentils seasoned with lemon, salt, horseradish, and jalapeno. Yet another new taste was the Siljo, a broad bean paste tastefully seasoned with the tang of lemon.
Z: The stews mentioned here were a mere introduction to those we devoured on our visit to Rahel's restaurant. Ethiopian cuisine is endowed with a wealth of vegetable, legume, and spice dishes that Rahel prepares with an alchemist's flair.
R: Our evening ended with a pleasant surprise--vegan chocolate cake all decked out with a candle and accompanied with melodic vocalizations to honor my birthday. It was a joy to know that I could blissfully enjoy my decadent dessert without having to ask about questionable ingredients.
Z: Rahel Veggie Cuisine is truly a welcome addition to the growing list of vegetarian restaurants popping up in Los Angeles. And Rahel knows just how to pamper her customers who will find good value, reasonable prices, and scrumptious creations made from scratch.
Rahel Veggie Cuisine
Reviewed May 2005