Warm Up With Sheba's Authentic Ethiopian Spice

Categories: Food Find, Palmer
T. Palmer
Kitfo and tibs wat: Two Ethiopian takes on beef.
Ever read a piece of food writing that made you so hungry you had to experience that same food as soon as possible? That happened when we read our friend Carolyn Alburger's thoughtful profile of Netsanet Alemayehu, chef/proprietor of Sheba Piano Lounge (1419 Fillmore at O'Farrell), in the Chron. Alburger tipped us off to a spot that isn't new or trendy, but is worth checking out especially as it starts to get nippy outside. A warm fireplace and hot bites seasoned with spices sent directly from Alemayehu's family in Ethiopia awaits inside Sheba.

Dining with a vegetable-phobic companion, we chose two beef dishes to top our edible platter and additional helpings of injera, the spongy Ethiopian bread that magically doubles in size inside your stomach (not really, but that's what it feels like). A stew of cubed beef called tibs wat ($14.75) and steak tartare known as kitfo ($15) both contained spices and nit'ir kibe, or Ethiopian purified butter, but were distinct enough in flavor and texture as to not feel like we overloaded on one thing. The menu also includes chicken, lamb, catfish and vegetarian dishes of collard greens, split peas, lentils, and mixed veggies.

We expected good food, but what we didn't expect was the design of the space, which we think is among the most interesting on all of Fillmore Street. The centerpiece, a dividing wall, is modeled after Church of St. George in the Ethiopian holy city of Lalibela. It was quiet at our early bird hour, but each night features international musicians, from piano players to jazz ensembles. It might really feel like church later in the evening when the live music gets started.

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