Saturday night found me in the company of co-worker and friend Lynn, whose husband was off at a weekend bachelor party in Myrtle Beach. As such, Lynn wanted to try Ethiopian food, which she had never had before, and which she suspected her hubby would bristle at.
As I have mentioned before, one of my favorite restaurants in all of New Jersey is Makeda's in New Brunswick. Liana has declared that the food there (and this is true of Ethiopian food in general) "looks like dog food, but tastes like heaven," and there's something to be said for that assessment.
Anyway, it just so happens that there is an Ethiopian restaurant in Montclair on Bloomfield Ave, where Lynn and I were headed to see a movie. Mesob could easily fade into the background of all the surrounding stores and restaurants, but the food certainly makes in stand out in my mind. Mesob is relatively new to the gustation landscape - it's only been around for about a year and a half, but judging by the Saturday night crowd, it's not going anywhere.
First things first that you ought to know about Ethiopian food - you do not use silverware - all dishes are served with a flat bread called injera, which is spongy and has a very distinctive texture and flavor. You scoop up the food with the injera. Second, all of the dishes are akin to a stew, and many of them are quite spicy, so if you dislike spiciness, you must make sure that you specify mild. The nice thing about Mesob is that every dish on the menu is marked as hot, mild, and so on.
Lynn and I started off with the ingudai tibs, which is portabello mushrooms, marinated and sauteed with onions, jalapenos, tomatos, herbs and so on. It's served warm in a small dish with some injera for scooping. It was very nicely done - the mushrooms were flavorful and tender.
We then shared the meat sampler, which included five meat dishes and three vegetarian dishes. On a side note, Ethiopian food is great for vegetarians as there are always plenty of protein heavy vegetarian entrees on the menu. The sampler had three beef dishes, one lamb dish and one chicken dish. Two of the beef dishes, the minchet abish key wat and the tibs wat, were on the spicy side, but not so overwhelming that a wuss like me couldn't eat them. My personal favorite was probably the lamb dish - yebeg aletcha wat - very tender and nicely seasoned. And the side dishes of pureed yellow split peas, pureed spicy lentils, and errr, something else that I have subsequently forgotten, were a nice complement.
The service was decent, but nothing great. Our waitress and the hostess were tremendously friendly, but occasionally difficult to grab hold of. I don't recommend going to Mesob is you have a specific timetable for the evening. The end of our meal was a bit rushed so as to make our movie. I attribute this to the sudden onslaught of people that came in after 7:30. I arrived early for our reservation and was given a choice of where I wanted to sit, as the restaurant was nearly empty. When Lynn arrived at 7:45, the restaurant was nearly full, and by 8:15, people were standing outside, waiting for a table. Kudos to Mesob for that - the food was solid and reasonably priced (read, less expensive than Makeda's) and I can understand why there would be a wait on a Saturday night.
Oh, and the decor is quite lovely - there's a bar placed in the center of the elongated dining room, which has a series of tall lanterns. The lanterns all have writing on them in what I am guessing is Amharic, the native language. And the entire room smelled of cloves. As is the case for most restaurants in Montclair, Mesob is a BYO, so do bring a bottle of wine. We had a Riesling, which went nicely with the spicier stews.
Star-Ledger review here and AOL's City Guide review is here.