John Curtas is …

MERKATO ETHIOPIAN MARKET AND CAFE

Nothing says “economic downturn” like eating a communal meal of strange food from a little known country…and letting someone else pay for it.

When you eat Ethiopian/Eritrean food, you do so with your right hand. Utensils aren’t involved, but a puffy, sourdough pancake called injera, is.

Ordering consists of selecting from a variety of wat (hard “t”) — stews of various meat (but not pork) and vegetables. These are then placed in piles around the large pancake, and the fun begins.

Ethiopian restaurants come and go in the Vegas Valley, and we’ve managed to enjoy this cuisine a few times before the eateries quickly fold. Merkato, however, may be the most ambitious (and popular) one we’ve encountered, and it’s been open since 2004, so it deserves a toast to the New Year with some tej {Ethiopian honey wine}.

Of the food, we can say the tibs of marinated beef (served from a hot, ceramic plate atop a small fire) were clear winners, but some of the wot stews (of beef and lamb ribs) were somewhat unsightly, chewy, and may be less than appealing to the western palate.

But the slow simmered vegetables, deep-fried pockets with lentils, and bebere (a spicy red pepper condiment), were mighty fine indeed…and the coffee (made during a coffee ceremony in a jebena) was great.

FYI: What they burn with that ceremony is frankincense — a resinous by-product of the Boswellia Thurifera tree…but you knew that.

ELV didn’t have the kifto or the intrguingly-named gored gored (different forms of spiced, rare beef), but looks forward to trying them on a return visit.

A big meal for three (with plenty of leftovers) — and three brewskis — came to $60, including tip…all generously paid for by CWLVNV– a strange and reclusive fan of ELV (with a fine palate and good taste — in restaurants and food critics) who deigned to dine with us one recent, chilly Saturday afternoon.

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p.s. “Merkato Ethiopian Market” translates into “Market Ethiopian Market,” – giving yet another example of foreign-tongue-to-English title redundancies; the most glaring example of which is: “The Los Angeles Angels,” which translates to: “The The Angels Angels.”

MERKATO ETHIOPIAN MARKET AND CAFE

855 East Twain Ave.

Las Vegas, NV 89169

702.796.1231

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