October 18th, 2006

Dine & Dish 7: Like a Virgin to Sheba

KeftaShrimp tibsSheba's best of meat platterIngera

[Update: Sheba is now closed]

Last Friday night my palate was aroused – touched for the very first time – by the flavors of Sheba’s Ethiopian grub. And yeah, it made me feel, ooh, ooh, it made me feel, like a virgin. Wooh!

Like a Virgin is the theme of the seventh Dine & Dish, a food blogging event hosted by Sarah of The Delicious Life. Try a new restaurant or an entirely new cuisine, she proposed. I did both; it was my first time visiting Sheba [photos] in Miami’s design district and my first time eating Ethiopian food. And yeah, they made me feel shiny and new.

I first heard about the wonders of Ethiopian food three or four years ago from my then-roommate Linda, but I don’t recall Miami having much in the way of options for that cuisine back then. Truth is it still doesn’t, so trying Ethiopian cuisine had somehow been pushed to the back of my mind. But this event gave me the perfect excuse to finally give it a try.

I had imagined a small and cozy restaurant tucked away in some street in the design district. Not so. Sheba has a welcoming atmosphere but it’s not small as I imagined. It has the feel of a high-end restaurant, white table cloths and all, but without the attitude. Service is informal, friendly but somewhat detached. The restaurant’s desert yellow walls, beautiful African art and dim lighting give it a warm feel. A jazz trio added to the nice atmosphere.

Sheba’s dinner menu was uncharted territory for me. All I knew about Ethiopian food was that it was a) delicious; and b) spicy and aromatic. There was more than one food virgin at our table of six that night. I asked for guidance from the one person who had eaten it before, but in the end decided to explore the menu like the virgin territory that it was and choose on my own.

The menu is divided among meat, chicken, seafood and vegetarian dishes. An easy solution for the Ethiopian food virgin might have been to order one of the various mixed platters they serve. Sheba’s Best of the Best ($46 meat; $56 seafood), gives you a taste of almost everything and is meant for two. They also have a meat combination of three meat dishes and three vegetables ($34).

We started off with their Kefta appetizer, Moroccan meatballs in a blend of herbs and spices, onions and peppers. I’ve never been a big fan of meatballs but I liked these, particularly the sauce. They’re also conveniently small so you can eat them in just one bite.

My friends R and V went the adventurous route and ordered the ‘best’ meat platter. It’s big. We concluded it’s big enough to feed at least three, which makes it a pretty good deal and gives you a chance to sample the menu. Sheba’s prices are not on the low end but for the quality of the food, I felt it was reasonable for a special occasion or night out.

Entrees are served on Ethiopian bread – ingera – which as most non-virgins will know is traditionally used to eat your food. The sourdough tasting bread looks like a tortilla and has a soft but gummy texture. Each dish is served with two sides you choose from the menu’s vegetarian entrees, which include collard greens, lentils, fava beans, string beans and pureed split peas. My friend M was pleased by their vegetarian offerings as she rarely eats red meat or chicken. Pick five of these for the vegetarian combination platter ($23).

In my menu choice I didn’t go wrong. I was blown away by my Zilzil, strips of lamb marinated in honey wine, Tej, and awaze sauce. The meat was so tender and had a sweet, spicy taste. The gomen wat, collard greens, which I chose to accompany my lamb, were so flavorful; I never thought I’d enjoy collard greens so much.

D allowed me to try his Gored Gored, minced filet mignon in awaze sauce. All I can say is: spicy but just right, not overly so. Awaze is made with berbere, a red pepper spice that I’d liken to a curry. It has hints of cumin, cardamom and garlic.

Another of the virgins ordered Shrimp Tibs ($25), also marinated in honey wine then sautéed in Ethiopian clarified butter and African salsa. This one I didn’t get a taste of but it was the most appetizing to the eye. I’d been told to try the honey wine used in many of Sheba’s dishes. “Dangerously good stuff,” a friend told me, but everyone at the table but M – who drank an attractively presented martini – was in beer mode.

Oddly perhaps, we ended the night with not-so-Ethiopian desserts. Sheba’s dessert menu includes Bourbon pecan tart, chocolate mousse, gelato, truffles, mango guava cheesecake and Caribbean rum cake. I shared the Caribbean rum cake with others at the table. What can I say? It was moist and airy but tasted like a few bites would get me buzzed. I’m not complaining, but a whole one of these would be overwhelming.

And like that, it was gone. My palate’s virginity to Sheba and Ethiopian cuisine. No awkardness, no discomfort, mostly sublime.

Sheba Ethiopian Restaurant
4029 N. Miami Avenue

[tags] food, blogs, food blog events, ethiopian food, ethiopian restaurants, Sheba, miami, restaurants [/tags]

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3 Responses to “Dine & Dish 7: Like a Virgin to Sheba”

  1. wow, looks a little like indian food. is it?

  2. Indeed, it struck me as somewhat similar and many of the same spices are used. You should try it.

  3. Sheba has good food, and as you say it has the feel of a high-end restaurant. That in itself makes it different than pretty much every other Ethiopian restaurant I’ve been to (except maybe the combo jazz-bar-Ethiopian-restaurant in SF), which tended to be more of the hole in the wall or cozy atmosphere you were expecting. And which explains why the price was quite a bit more than what I’ve paid for Ethiopian food elsewhere… or is it just because this is Miami 😉

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