When I reviewed Arada last summer ("Stranger in a Strange Land," June 29, 2006), Ethiopian food was still new to me. Somehow, I'd managed to miss this incredible, uncorrupted African mother cuisine for years — even here in Denver, where African cuisines in general have established a foothold far more solid than in most American cities.
And when I did finally eat my first meals at Haime Asfaw's Arada (which had relocated from Colfax to Santa Fe a few months earlier), I was blown away by an entire canon unlike anything I'd experienced before — raw beef with cottage cheese, injera, chicken stew that tasted of flavor combinations alien to my palate. For a guy who eats every damn weird-ass thing out there and averages something like three-hundred-plus restaurant meals a year, that's really saying something. It takes a lot to shock me, and I love being shocked.
I was shocked again a few weeks ago when I returned to Arada with a big party of equally dedicated gastronauts and found that Arada has gotten better. Much better. And the food coming out of Asfaw's kitchen was pretty good to begin with.
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We ordered almost everything on the menu — beef sambusa like fat empanadas, fit-fit, tibs, doro wat and doro alitcha, both chicken in sauces deep with foreign spice and raw kitffo that leaked Ethiopian butter and red pepper like blood. Each dish was spooned out onto a huge, injera-covered tray by Asfaw. They were all unique — one stew unlike the next, one salad different than the one beside it — and absolutely delicious. We couldn't stop eating, picking at the last of the meat on the chicken legs, nibbling little bites of the kittfo and homemade cottage cheese, pulling pinches of sauce-soaked injera off the serving platter; going back again and again to taste this amazingly strange, deliciously different, bizarrely comforting cuisine coming from the kitchen of not just Denver's best Ethiopian restaurant, but one of Denver's best ethnic restaurants, period.
And I can't wait to get back to Arada again.