Walter Mencken 8:33 a.m., Nov. 21
Bayu's Ethiopian: Say "No" to Forks!
Bayu's has been open for just over a year at the corner of 5th and University in Hillcrest. Despite it's forgettable facade, the doors open onto a nicely laid out dining room with white linen on the tables, big windows, a spacious bar, and a facsimile of a thatched hut covering some tables in the back of the dining room.
The restaurant runs full lunch and dinner service, but a big highlight is the weekday lunch buffet. Every day until 2:30 in the afternoon, $9.99 buys limitless access to a half dozen chafing dishes filled with the slowly stewed, richly spiced meats and vegetables that characterize this East African cuisine.
A quick primer on Ethiopian cookery: the majority of foods are slowly stewed and heavily seasoned. The overall flavor has commonalities with North African (particularly Moroccan tajine) flavors and the styles of curry popular in northern India. Due to the slow cooking methods employed, the resultant dishes are all tender and easily digestible, while the seasonings meld together and create heady aromas and complex flavors. Traditionally, Ethiopian food is served without the silverware that we have become accustomed to in the past couple hundred years. In lieu of forks and spoons, diners break off sections of injera (the spongy, sourdough bread that's an Ethiopian staple) and scoop food up with the fingers; an act which requires a certain deftness, but which proves incredibly rewarding once mastered.
As stated, Bayu's is rather nicer than its first impression might imply and the food is on par with other African restaurants at the same price point. Vegetarian entrees are all under $10, and meat dishes range in price from $12-$14. The menu offers a wipe selection of popular dishes, as well as a basic glossary of Ethiopian culinary terms.
The restaurant has Ethiopian beer and wine as well, including the potent honey wine that's endemic to the country. As a predominantly Christian nation, Ethiopia is more tolerant of alcohol consumption than it's neighboring Muslim nations.
The aforementioned lunch buffet doesn't include the entire menu, but the available dishes will surely have something for diehard fans of Ethiopian cuisine, or for newcomers to this culinary phenomenon.
First-timers might do well to try a little atakilt. Comprised of potatoes, carrots, and cabbage simmered in spiced butter, the dish seldom disappoints and can be a great gateway into eating with one's fingers since it's easier to pick up.
Bayu's also delivered a superior misir wot; a deeply spiced, earthy dish of split lentils that have been simmered until they're broken down into a dark, delicious puree.
Meat dishes, such as the spicy beef stew called sega wot, have a curious consistency after the long, slow cooking. Most of the fat is rendered out of the meat, so the majority of the succulence of most dishes is in the sauce. Eating just the meat would be a disappointment, so don't let a single drop of the spicy sauces go to waste.
For $9.99, it's easy to eat to satiation at Bayu's buffet, though the extensive menu more than warrants a visit during dinner hours.
530 University Avenue
M-Th 11-3 then 5-10
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