To shake things up in Current's food section we sent some of our staff to an Ann Arbor eatery to develop a group account of the experience — lunch at A2 ethnic dining staple Blue Nile. Two of our advertising reps, Kelly Schwarck and Charles Towne, along with Current's newest editorial addition, Joseph Schafer and myself undertook some hardnose culinary journalism to investigate the lunch options at the Ethiopian restaurant. The owners, Habte Dadi and Almaz Lessanework, brought us a full Ethiopian Feast, allowing us to sample a wide selection of menu items. Blue Nile may be known as an adventurous date-night destination, but we were quick to discover the belts-stretching-yet-healthy midday meal possibilities.
Choosing any bold ethnic cuisine comes with the assumption that the experience should be an adventure into another culture and a taste of the exotic. But, the Blue Nile experience transports the diner to a different culture by the way you eat as much the exotic flavors. When seated you are presented with hot towels to cleanse your hands, because in Ethiopian dining or "gursha eating," food is traditionally shared by all from a center serving and eaten by hand. So there we were being "those people" and taking iPhone pics of the large platter of various vegan and vegetarian selections piled around a large circular, spongy flatbread called Injera.
Here’s how my foodie-of-the-day coworkers broke down the Blue Nile experience:
Joseph Schafer, arts and entertainment coordinator
Ethiopian food has a transgressive streak of fun in it. It breaks the conventional rules of Western dining. American parents teach their children from a young age to eat with a fork and knife, not with their hands. Eating at the Blue Nile literally feels luscious because the food is eaten only by hand, with your fingers, adding another tactile sense to the textural sensations in the mouth. But though I came for the food, and will return for the food, Blue Nile conquered me with the Ethiopian spiced tea. It's a decaffeinated herbal which pulses between waves of citrus flavor and cinnamon spice, but goes down with a succulent hue. I am shocked it has no added sugar. I ordered a tin to take home for myself after one sip.
Kelly Schwarck, ad executive
Using the Injera to soak up the flavors makes the meal interactive and fun. As a recent convert to veganism, I also appreciated the large selection of vegan and vegetarian options. The dishes that stand out are the Tekil Gomen, which is the cabbage accented with a blend of herbs and spices, and the Yemisir Kik Wat, the spicy dish of red lentils whipped into a delicious paste that I will still be thinking about next week.
Charles Towne, ad executive
Their Injera bread, soft and chewy, allows the diner to blend with impunity any combination of dishes and ingredients they desire. Whether it be the pairing of the ZilZil Wat beef and spicy lentils or their spicy Doro Wat chicken and Gomen collard greens, your flavor combinations are limited only by your imagination. Of course, I would be remiss if I failed to mention the ever warm and endearing spiced Ethiopian tea. It marries itself well with nearly every dish. Although we left satisfied, the feeling avoided the heavy food coma that some lunches leave you with.
Overall the cuisine is light and undeniably a healthier alternative to other lunch staples. The individual dishes are very reasonably priced, but for a group the all-you-can-eat Ethiopian feast is definitely the way to go. Kelly just had one last bit of advice for a return trip to Blue Nile. “Wear your stretchy pants, you will leave full!”