My wonderfully game co-worker and I had enough time for lunch today that we were able to leave the conference site and head into the Gaslight District. I had talked her into coming with me late Sunday night to an Indian restaurant down there, Monsoon, and today for lunch we ended up at an Afghan place, Chopahn, within a couple blocks of the Indian place.
Having hardly eaten since that dinner on Sunday night, and having had almost nothing but white flour-based foods for the past two days, (while attending a nutrition conference, oddly enough) I ordered everything vegetarian on the menu, which, at an Afghan restaurant is sometimes not that much, but is usually quite well executed, just as steakhouse vegetables usually are. (If they only do three things, they seem to learn how to do them exceptionally well.)
True to form, two enormous piles of spinach and roasted eggplant and a slightly hollowed round of pumpkin filled with yogurt landed in front of me.
I tucked into the pumpkin, which was perfectly tender and pleasantly tart from the puddle of yogurt, and only slightly exaggerated the relief I was feeling.
“Ah, Vitamin A,” I sighed.
“That’s kind of a lot of food for lunch,” my co-worker said when I was halfway through (and had no plans to stop).
“But not calorically dense, of course,” I said, applying a great deal of spinach to a small piece of nigella-seeded bread. “This is one of the great things about being a vegetarian,” I added, gesturing toward my plate. “Big piles. You get to eat a lot.”
As long as you have the good fortune to like what’s good for you, I suppose.
Tonight, after the workshops and the reception were over, I called her up. She was thinking of staying in.
“I picked out an Ethiopian place,” I offered. “Red Sea Ethiopian Restaurant.”
Our parking attendant and some other people I’d seen staffing the conference center had seemed to be of Ethiopian ancestry, and that made me think there might be a place or two nearby. There was; this one described as both good and “unassuming,” restaurant-review code for “an authentic restaurant the appearance of which may scare some white people.”
“Well, okay,” she said. She was pleased to have the adventure. I was pleased to have the company.
I haven’t had a chance to have Ethiopian food since I moved away from D.C. in 2000, besides a series of pretty successful Misr Wat experiments born of an initial Berbere Sauce experiment in my own kitchen back in Michigan. I had to dispense with all my condiments when we moved to California in 2003, as there was no way to transport them without leaving them all unrefrigerated for a couple weeks, and I’ve never gotten around to making another batch of Berbere Sauce. I lost some great condiments in that move.
The restaurant did turn out to be of quite unassuming appearance; I said to my co-worker as we were about to walk in, “Either we’ll get a great dinner out of this or you’ll get a great story to tell about the time I dragged you to that Ethiopian restaurant in San Diego.”
Dinner was terrific. It was too bad we’d (I’d!) had so much lunch. Since she’d never had Ethiopian food and we wanted to have plenty to try, we ordered everything vegetarian on the menu (collard greens, yellow split peas, lentils, and carrots and potatoes – all $5 a portion). It’s too bad the hotel doesn’t have refrigerators. We both agreed we’d certainly eat more of the stuff for breakfast and lunch the next day.
While we were happily scooping up bites of stew, I said, “Since you’re getting back into the office before I am, you have to tell everybody where we went to eat.” Gesturing with injera in my hand, I indicated the escalating perceived obscurity of the cuisines we’d experienced and their respective inaccessibility in the San Joaquin Valley. “First the Indian place, then Afghan, then Ethiopian.”
We did a good job of enjoying things we couldn’t have had at home. But if we stayed any longer, I thought, and wanted even more obscure gustatory adventures, I’d have to start looking for a restaurant that serves regional Botswanian food, and after that, perhaps head for some Venusian cuisine. And I don’t think anyone even has that outside of Manhattan yet.
It’s time to head out. Next stop, Orange County.