They Call Me Mister T'ibs

For our carnie combo we chose tastier portions of yesiga wat, beef stewed in that same rich red wat-sauce; ye-beg alecha, lamb in a mild, pleasant currylike sauce; and doro t'ibs, tender chunks of chicken breast with strings of fresh, snappy raw onion. You can get the t'ibs sauce mild or spicy. We didn't specify, and default proved, of course, to be the mild -- very gentle indeed, actually just a bland glaze. Next time we'll get the spicy version, which is more typical of t'ibs.

The extra-spicy version of kitfo was everything I'd hoped -- the same top-grade meat seasoned just like Mama makes it. All that was missing was the typical (but not invariable) scattering of cottage cheese atop the meat. That probably evolved because dairy products help neutralize hot pepper extravaganzas; I only noticed the lack when I got home and found myself making a beeline for an antique carton of Bud's French vanilla languishing in back of the freezer. While eating, though, the kitfo's fires were sharp but short-lived. The slash of heat roused our appreciation for the sweet glazed carrot and string bean mixture on the platter -- "A nice relief when you order your food hot," Dave observed. We even welcomed the pile of lettuce in the center, in a light, inconsequential dressing with a hint of mayo. But the heaplet of golden pilaf remained as neglected as a nerd at the prom. "Is rice usual in Ethiopian restaurants?" asked TJ. "Isn't it sort of redundant, given you've already got a starch and a soother with the injera?" I agreed it was both redundant and unusual; Tana was the first to serve it amid the dozen-odd Ethiopian restaurants I've tried.

Tana's Castro-district location influences its food: In a burger-pizza-noodles neighborhood addicted to all-American diner grub, any African flavor seems exquisitely exotic. Given the local tastes, the kitchen is, understandably, a little cautious with the spicing and a little light on "tradition" for patrons who generally don't know the traditions. At the same time, the host/owner is the soul of ambassadorial service -- so if you're an old Ethiopian hand, the kitchen's also ready to accommodate you. Either way, you can rise above the area at the tranquil aerie atop the steep stairway.

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