The heady aroma of frankincense, myrrh and freshly pan-roasted coffee beans float through this cozy St. Clair-Superior Ethiopian restaurant.
All of them play a vital part in the traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony which ought to round out every meal of wat — meat and vegetable stew — which comes served here on airy injera, the crepe-thin sourdough-like bread and Ethiopian national dish.
The 27-year-old Empress Taytu has long been a staple in Cleveland dining, especially among the city’s vegan and vegetarian communities — the restaurant is a regular at VegFest, and 70 percent of its dishes are, or can be, prepared vegan.
Begin your meal with ambasha ($7), a chewy skillet bread served with house-made ayib, a fluffy house-made cottage cheese warmly seasoned with the Ethiopian spice-blend mitmita.
First-timers can get an overview of Ethiopian cuisine with a combo platter ($15-$20), which showcases the interplay between subtle lentil-based stews and spicier meat dishes such as the sega tibs, beef sauteed in spiced butter and seasoned with onion, peppers and rosemary.
The kitfo ($20) may be the best thing on the menu, especially if you order it spicy. Minced raw or cooked beef is deeply spiced with mitmita, spiced butter and jalapeno, and served with ayib. The fat and spice from the beef are perfectly complemented by the cheese, building a rich, light combination of texture and flavor that is singular in Cleveland.
These rich, layered dishes come courtesy of head chef Senait Robson, who immigrated to the United States in the late 1980s. She coaches a staff of Ethiopian cooks on how to perfectly season each dish on the menu.
“Nobody uses cookbooks in Ethiopia,” explains Robson. “We do not have measuring units. Your measuring units are your hands and your eyes. You have to learn it that way, and you have to know your spices.”
6125 St. Clair Ave., Cleveland, 216-391-9400, empresstayturestaurantcleveland.com
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