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Newly reopened Etete is not just the same, old D.C. Ethiopian restaurant

Now reopened after a six-month renovation and under the direction of new chef Chris Roberson, Etete continues to offer a modern spin

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Etete review, gay news, Washington Blade

Etete, now reopened and under the reign of a new chef, offers Ethiopian food with a modern spin. (Photo by Rey Lopez)

Beyond the traditional mid-Atlantic and Southern fare that Washington is rooted in — crab cakes, oysters, fried green tomatoes and the “everything-tastes-better-on-a-biscuit” school of thought — there are two cuisines that give the capital city some personality: Salvadoran and Ethiopian.

In many neighborhoods across the District, you’ll find outposts of one or perhaps both types, filled with diners from all walks of life. In a city that sometimes feels like it has no real identity of its own, nearly every child growing up in the nation’s capital has probably munched on a cheesy pupusa or delighted in using injera for picking up food instead of a fork.

Injera, the spongy, pancake-like flatbread made of an ancient grain known as teff, does characteristically serve as both a vessel and a utensil at the table, with one large circle of injera topped with mounds of wat, or stews — from lamb to lentils — accompanied by more injera, used to scoop up the various dishes. While many of the local Ethiopian restaurants tend toward casual mom-and-pop eateries, Etete (1942 Ninth St., N.W.) aims a bit higher. And, yes, forks may be involved.

Since opening in 2004, Etete, named for matriarch Tiwaltengus “Etete” Shenegelgn, has had a markedly different vibe — more bistro than bodega — with a chic modern interior and an emphasis on more upscale versions of traditional Ethiopian cuisine. Now reopened after a six-month renovation and under the direction of new chef Chris Roberson, Etete continues to offer a modern spin, starting, logically, with injera.

Interestingly, once you’ve had an injera taco, it makes perfect sense. The simple act of folding that spongy bread and toasting it lightly makes it the perfect vehicle for turning typical Ethiopian dishes like berbere chicken, red lentils, and collards greens into taco fillings. Topped off with ayibe, a soft farmer’s cheese similar to queso fresco, and a sprig of cilantro and you’ll be hard-pressed to find a tastier handmade taco.

While staying true to classic Etete recipes like Doro Wat, chicken stew flavored with berbere, a spice mixture that usually contains garlic, ginger, fenugreek, chili peppers and a variety of other herbs and spices, Chef Roberson has continued to cross-pollinate in the kitchen with influence from other cuisines and techniques, from prawn gumbo to sous-vide short ribs. Light-as-air black eyed pea fritters served with a pungent peanut sauce borrow from West African flavors, while a play on hummus and pita is made with yellow lentils and — you guessed it — injera, now turned into slightly addictive crispy fried chips.

While you’ll still find frosty bottles of St. George lager imported from Ethiopia, along with a traditional housemade honey wine, Etete has also stepped up its cocktail game with a drinks menu that continues to explore traditional flavors in new ways. For the 24 Karat, passionfruit and carrot juice combine with Bird’s Eye chili syrup, tequila and St. Germain for an imaginative reboot of a Tequila Sunrise, while tequila stars again in the Golden Coconut, an elegant aperitif made with coconut milk, lime juice and turmeric.

On a side note, if you’re still jonesing for Salvadoran instead of Ethiopian — and something at a lower price point — head to the H Street corridor, where Taqueria & Rosticeria Fresca (701 H St., N.E.) is offering up, as the name implies, a really fresh take on Salvadoran specialties.

Utilitarian and squeaky clean, Taqueria offers the full range of dishes usually found in other popular Salvadoran/Mexican eateries around town — tacos, empanadas, burritos — but where sometimes these same dishes can seem heavy and overly dependent on cheese and lard, Taqueria’s versions are light and bright, with notes of herbs and citrus.

For well under $10, go ahead and indulge in pupusas accompanied by caraway-spiked cabbage slaw, tender strips of fried yucca or perfectly-puffed gorditas topped with fresh crema and slivered jalapenos. Lacking a liquor license, Taqueria still offers some tasty liquids, so be sure to sample the pineapple agua fresca or a papaya milkshake. You won’t miss the alcohol. There’s plenty of other spots to grab a cocktail on H Street, but not so many that offer a truly refreshing bite, especially during a sweltering D.C. summer.

 

Kristen Hartke is a D.C.-based food and beverage writer. Follow her kitchen adventures on Instagram, @kristenhartke.

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As You Are Bar offers a place to belong

Bar-coffeeshop-danceboutique to open brick-and-mortar soon

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AYA, gay news, Washington Blade

Rachel Pike and Jo McDaniel are the bar industry veterans behind As You Are Bar. (Photo courtesy Pike and McDaniel)

Vodka soda, pinot grigio, light beer, ginger ale, or all of the above: whatever your tribe, As You Are Bar recognizes your flavor.

Currently virtual and soon physical, As You Are (AYA) Bar is the new joint venture from bar industry veterans Jo McDaniel and Rachel Pike, partners and both queer women.

Launched earlier this year, AYA is “a virtual queer space with a priority of safety and inclusion,” says McDaniel.

McDaniel, who has been recognized by the Washington Blade in the past for her cocktail crafting skills, began her career at now-closed gay bar Apex, and later as a bartender at Phase 1, Phase 1 Dupont, Freddie’s Beach Bar, and Cobalt.

McDaniel went on to open and then manage A League of Her Own (ALOHO), located aside Pitcher’s in Adams Morgan. For her part, Pike started in the industry in security at Nellie’s, and was also on hand to open ALOHO. She moved up to lead security and bartender at ALOHO.

At ALOHO, the duo teamed up to make it “as safe a space as possible,” says McDaniel. But, as for the entire industry, the pandemic threw a wrench in their in-person abilities to do so.

When the pandemic hit, “we realized it was time to do more,” she says. “Humans are made to connect, and we couldn’t support them well at a brick-and-mortar-space. Thus, AYA bar was born.”

Having left ALOHO to expand their dream bar model, AYA allowed them to entirely rethink the bar space. At times, they admit, “the 21-35 crowd can dominate nightlife. The goal is to pull away from that,” McDaniel says. In addition, Pike notes that “pandemic, and the time off, opened many people’s eyes to so many injustices, inequities and racism in our world.” They want to address those concerns at AYA by accepting every part of the queer rainbow.

Right now, AYA is creating that welcoming space virtually. One popular event on the AYA website is Click in with Coach, a Zoom-based happy hour hangout. It’s a place to have bar talk without the physical bar. McDaniel hosts Hey Jo, an Instagram live interview show where McDaniel speaks with a guest from the community to discuss queer spaces, ways to support community causes, and lessons over the years and from this time in a pandemic. Other events include a YouTube virtual dance party hosted by DJ MIM (a popular queer DJ) and Our Side of the Bar, at which McDaniel and Rach take the hot seat and dish what life is like on the other side of the bar.

Regardless of location, McDaniel stresses that the team wants “to expand our reach and center marginalized communities within this larger community: Black, brown, and indigenous people of color (BBIPoC), queer youth, and queer elders.”

The two are actively searching for a physical location, and hope to have more news on its opening by the summer.

Their goal is to make AYA a daytime-to-nighttime café-cum-danceboutique. In the morning and afternoons, it will serve as a coffeeshop for families and youth, and welcome after-schoolers. In the evening, a part of the space will dim the lights and turn up the tunes, allowing the bar to transform into an accessible, everyone-welcome bar. They hope to include the 18+ crowd on certain nights, too. The café section will likely stay open for those looking for a quieter nook at night.

“Because we identify under the queer umbrella,” says McDaniel, “our passion to provide safety to this community courses through us in everything we do. Because we’re white, we believe we have a responsibility to BBIPoC to center the needs and voices of marginalized people. We were both also young queer people at one point looking for a place to belong, come as we were, and feel safe. Everyone deserves a space that is theirs. A space they can be who they are and know they will be respected, protected, and nurtured. As You Are is for anyone that couldn’t find that place elsewhere.”

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Dining

Gin & Tonic Festival to benefit restaurants, workers

ThinkFoodGroup celebrates Spain’s favorite cocktail

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José Andrés (Photo by Blair Getz Mezibov)

José Andrés’ ThinkFoodGroup celebrates Spain’s favorite cocktail with its annual Gin & Tonic Festival April 9-29 at all Jaleo restaurant locations in the D.C. area.

The Botanist Gin will donate $5 of every Botanist Gin and Tonic sold during the festival to the Independent Restaurant Coalition. Donations will be doubled to $10 on International Gin and Tonic Day on April 9.

The Independent Restaurant Coalition is a grassroots movement formed by chefs and independent restaurant owners across the country to protect the independent restaurants and their workers impacted by the ongoing pandemic.

For more information, visit ThinkFoodGroup on Facebook.

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Dining

Paraiso Taqueria is a riotous rainbow of a restaurant

‘A vibrant atmosphere where all your senses get stimulated’

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Paradiso, gay news, Washington Blade
Scenes from the new Paraiso Taqueria in Capitol Hill. (Photos by Evan Caplan)

Green tortillas, pink mole, and blood-orange margaritas: the new Paraiso Taqueria in Capitol Hill is a riotous rainbow of a restaurant.

Launched last December, Paraiso Taqueria is just coming into its stride, as the city government relaxes dining restrictions, chef Geovany Beltran expands the menu, and the restaurant debuts a funky coffeeshop.

Beltran, a native of Mexico, has seized the opportunity in his first starring chef role at a restaurant, having previously worked at Jinya Ramen Bar, among other area eateries.

“Growing up in a mezcalero family in Guerrero, Mexico and being a D.C. local for many years, my dream has been to share those recipes and memories here in Capitol Hill,” he says. 

Unlike other recent taqueria openings, this one takes inspiration from both street food and home kitchens, as well as international influences. But Mexico is front and center. According to the restaurant’s Brand Director Tahmina Ghaffer, “we source our heirloom masa [corn flour] from Oaxaca, Mexico. This flour used for tortillas has been nixtamalized, or treated with slaked lime to remove the hulls, soften it, and improve the digestibility of its nutrients,” she says.

About those tortillas: Beltran livens up the Insta factor by mixing batches of masa with beet or cilantro, resulting in brilliant pink or green colors, in addition to the traditional yellow. Siting on those tortillas are a bevy of taco options, from traditional al pastor (with braised pork, pineapple, and cilantro) to a creative salmon crudo (with chamoy honey sauce, pickled onions, and mango). There is also an eggplant taco with tomatillo jam for vegetarians. All salsas that accompany the tacos are made in-house.

For bigger plates, look to the adobo lamb, served aside red and green salsas, escabeche, and tricolor tortillas, as a kind of DIY table side taco party. Another creative dish is an elegant cauliflower burrito, painted with a pink mole fragrant with beets, thyme, pine nuts, almonds, and pink peppercorns, and then elegantly drizzled with in a white chocolate sauce.

Beltran also takes cues from the sea, serving ceviche and coconut-curried mussels that would be right at home in an Indian restaurant.

On the sweet side, pastry chef Blenda Navarette crafts desserts like a tres leches topped by mango gelee and a chocolate flan; a pan dulce is in the works. 

The drink list, Ghaffer notes, is heavily focused on an extensive collection of mezcal and tequila. Bar manager Jose Diaz aims to “tell the myths, legends, and stories of Mexico through drinks.” 

The Oaxacan Old Fashioned is inspired by the classic cocktail, but Diaz uses mezcal and agave. The El Chamongo marries tequila with mango, lime, chamoy, and the popular Tajin spice mix for a spicy-salty kick.

Paraiso takes over the space formerly occupied by Emilie’s, where star chef Kevin Tien helmed the kitchen. When Tien left, owners Sam Shoja and Johann Moonesinghe revamped the space and handed the reins to Beltran (Shoja also owns several Jinya Ramen franchises). Beltran and his chef team are also partners in this operation.

“This team have been the true heroes of the restaurant industry and we want to give them a space where they can be celebrated and have ownership,” says Ghaffer.

The industrial-chic design with a 360-degree open kitchen (seats at the kitchen bar are not being used during pandemic restrictions) is brightened by prints from a family favorite Mexican illustrator, Ana Leovy. “She celebrates diversity through her work, weaving stories through shapes and colors, inspired by feelings, dreams and everyday life,” says Ghaffer. Neon lights and lots of greenery round out the space. 

Paraiso’s aim is to create “a vibrant atmosphere where all your senses get stimulated,” she says. 

An immigrant herself, Ghaffer (who hails from Afghanistan) notes that “being a minority has shaped our work, and we are here to set an example. As immigrants and people of color, we had to break barriers and now we want to help others do that. We want to let people know that anyone who puts in the hard work will achieve their dreams.”

Moving forward, Paraiso will soon house an all-day café-bookshop, decorated with photography from Mexican women, selling fresh coffee, packaged treats, goodies, and bottled drinks. The restaurant also has plans to set up a “mezcaleria” bar area, expand its outdoor patio, launch a monthly wine club series, and host specials for Cinco de Mayo.

(Photo by Evan Caplan)
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