With the opening this past October of Blue Nile, the mantle of the neighborhood’s most veg-friendly restaurant may have arguably passed to the still newish Ethiopian restaurant in Hyde Square.
Restaurant owner and longtime JP resident Ellena Haile explained that the country’s tradition of vegetarianism is derived from the Ethiopian Orthodox Church’s obligation of fasting more than 200 days per year. In addition to the Lenten season and numerous annual feast days, adherents are also obligated to fast on Wednesdays and Fridays.
“It is our culture,” stated Haile, “to break the fast with a vegan meal.”
If you are unfamiliar with Ethiopian fare, the hospitable Haile will be more than glad to guide you on your initial African adventure.
“The food is healthy, tasty and spicy but not hot,” she stated. “Everything here is fresh and made from scratch.”
To satisfy carnivores there are some beef and chicken dishes - but on Blue Nile’s menu the animal kingdom does not rule. Ranging in price from $6.50 to $8.50, the extensive list of vegetarian entrées may be ordered a la carte.
Alternatively, for a meatless medley the restaurant offers the JP Veggie Combo ($10.99 for one person or $19.99 for two), which consists of your choice of four vegetarian dishes.
“One thing that I hear from vegetarians is that it is very hard to find vegetarian food that makes you feel full,” continued Haile. “One of our specials is called “Vegetarian Revenge.” The reason I call it that is because after fasting, it makes you feel very well-fed.”
Comprised of your choice of six veggie dishes and an appetizer, Blue Nile’s Vegetarian Revenge ($12.99 for one person or $23.99 for two), which my dining companion and I irresistibly opted for, is a veritable vegetarian feast for which you are best advised to fast well in advance.
Appetizer selections include salads such as Azefa, made with lentils, or the Ethiopian bread, onion and tomato salad Timatim Fitfit. For a starter, we chose the Sambosa. Lighter and less dense than its Indian cousin, the samosa, the truly delicious sambosa consisted of two triangles of thin, crisp pastry stuffed with mildly spiced spinach, onions and carrots.
The colorful and substantial main course arrived like an XXL pizza platter. The Ethiopian staple, injera, an enormous round of spongy sourdough flatbread was decoratively dolloped with a more than generous assortment of satisfying stews known variously as “wat,” “wot” or “wet.”
Vowels aside, there’s no need for a fork or other utensils to eat the massive meal. The colorful communal dish is shared simply by scooping up it up by hand with torn bits of the injera.
For a punch of protein, we opted for two legume-based entrées. The slightly spicy Misir Wet is red lentils prepared with a piquant sauce chili sauce known as berbere. Seasoned with turmeric and other spices, the milder Yekkik Allcha is a sunny-colored and delectable dish of yellow split peas.
Some of the other “wets” that we tried included Tikil Gommen, made with cabbage, onions and potatoes; Yatakilt Wet, with carrots, green beans and potatoes; and Gomen Wet, collard greens with onions and peppers. In each case, the tasty entrées were flavorfully seasoned with a variety of herbs and spices like cardamom, ginger and garlic. The fresh, not overcooked vegetables each retained their individual identity.
Rounding out the half-dozen dishes that we sampled was the sole non-vegan entrée “Kinche,”cracked whole wheat cooked with herbal butter.
In addition to soft drinks and Ethiopian coffee, Blue Nile also offers a selection of beers and wines, including its own house brand honey wine that Haile disclosed is bottled right here in JP.
The cozy, casual, comfortable and clean eatery is painted with soft green walls that are adorned with Ethiopian art. Service at the highly affordable family-operated restaurant is friendly, pleasant and efficient.
For vegetarians who wish to savor their revenge, Blue Nile succeeds swimmingly.
Located at 389 Centre Street, Blue Nile Restaurant (617-522-6453) is open Monday – Friday from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m., and Saturdays and Sundays from 12 Noon to 11 p.m. The restaurant offers takeout, delivery and catering services.