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Lunch, Anyone? Blue Nile

Breaking bread at Blue Nile

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An Ethiopian meal among friends is the very definition of breaking bread. There are no utensils, just stacks of the spongy flat bread known as injera, used both to cradle and to scoop a range of mild to spicy salads and stews served on a common plate. A recent, welcome addition to the string of small, unpretentious eateries in Jamaica Plain’s Hyde Square, Blue Nile offers fresh, fragrant Ethiopian fare at prices students will warm to.

Beckoning to passersby through homey lace curtains, the restaurant accommodates 10 tables, arranged along moss green walls festooned sparely with Ethiopian paintings, garments, and string instruments. Owner and Jamaica Plain resident Ellena Haile named the place for the region where her Ethiopian family has its roots. Blue Nile is one of a string of mostly Latino restaurants and shops along this lively stretch of Centre Street (the dog-friendly Brendan Behan Pub is just across the street). Although adjacent to Brookline and easily reachable by T, this neighborhood is often overlooked by the BU community.

Colorful, soothing, and eminently shareable, Ethiopian food has a character all its own. With freshly spiced offerings both vegetarian and meat-based, the dishes are rich in ginger, garlic, and chili pepper, often combined in the mild to spicy seasoning berbere. Injera, the foundation of all Ethiopian cuisine, is prepared from a fine native grain called teff in a three-step process requiring anywhere from 8 to 12 hours between each step and cooked on a stove top or fire in a mitad, a covered wok-like pan. On a recent visit to Blue Nile we worked through several stacks of the faintly sweet bread as we ate our way from a salad appetizer to a selection of stewed main dishes.

Blue Nile ethiopian food restaurant, sambosa, Jamaica Plain, Boston, MA

We began with a plate of sambosa ($3.50) (above), seasoned lentils wrapped in fried dough. Reminiscent of Indian samosa, the crispy envelope was a nice counterpoint to the soft lentils within. A lemony timatim fitfit, a salad of injera blended with seasoned fresh tomatoes, diced onion, jalapenos, and lemon juice ($3.95), was more than enough for two. Our server was the owner’s daughter, and although too shy to give us her name, she guided us confidently through the restaurant’s main dishes, suggesting the Nile combination ($12.99), an order of lamb, beef, or chicken wet—cooked in berbere sauce—along with three vegetable sides. We chose the ye siga alicha, lean beef simmered in onion, ginger, garlic, and turmeric ($8.95 if ordered separately), along with yekik alicha, split yellow peas simmered in those same spices ($7.50 if ordered separately). To complete the combination, we chose kinche, cracked whole wheat blended with herbed butter ($6.50 if ordered separately), and gomen wet, chopped collard greens cooked with onions, peppers, herbs, and spices ($6.50 if ordered separately).

Our meal arrived on a plate half the size of the table and blanketed in injera, with colorful mounds—two of each of the combination selections—arranged on top like paints in an artist’s palette. With the help of a separate plate of injera, we scooped away; favorites were the tender, tangy beef and the nutty, herb-scented collard greens.

Blue Nile has a wine and beer list, but it doesn’t offer dessert, which is probably for the best, as we were stuffed. Still evolving since its September 2011 opening, the restaurant is as reasonable as it is welcoming. Bring a friend, and you can dig into the Vegetarian Revenge combo, offering a choice of six vegetarian dishes and an appetizer, a steal at $12.99 for one, $23.99 for two. For those who like it hot, there’s kitfo, minced beef seasoned with mitmita—very hot chili powder—and herbed butter, or misir wet, split red lentils cooked in spicy hot berbere sauce.

We were reluctant to leave Blue Nile, so we ordered coffee ($2). A bold blend, its exotic kick comes from the addition of Ethiopian cinnamon. We were still basking in the warmth and flavors of Africa when we emerged into the winter cold.

Blue Nile, 389 Centre St., Jamaica Plain, 617-522-6453, is open Tuesday through Sunday from 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m.; it accepts all major credit cards. It’s a 10-minute car ride from the Charles River Campus to Hyde Square, which has ample on-street parking. By public transportation, take an MBTA Green Line B or C trolley to Copley and change to the outbound Green Line Heath Street E trolley; Hyde Square is a 10-minute walk from the Heath Street stop. Or take the Green Line to Downtown Crossing and transfer to an Orange Line outbound trolley (toward Oak Grove). Take that to Jackson Square and walk along Centre Street to Hyde Square.

This is part of a weekly series featuring Boston lunch spots of interest to the BU community. If you have any suggestions for places we should feature, leave them in the comments section below. Check out our list of lunchtime tips on Foursquare.

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Susan Seligson, Senior Writer for BU Today and Bostonia
Susan Seligson

Susan Seligson can be reached at sueselig@bu.edu.

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