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Valley Life | restaurant review

Enter Ethiopia

At last, the tastes of East Africa can be sampled in the Valley.

November 03, 2000|MAX JACOBSON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Langano, named for a resort town that offers respite from Ethiopia's hot, dry climate, is the Valley's only Ethiopian restaurant. For a long time, you had to drive over the hill to get this cuisine (there are several Ethiopian places on lower Fairfax Avenue). Now when you feel the urge for hearty, spicy wats, you don't have to listen to the traffic report first.

This is a simple cafe with minimal decor--just a couple of colorful lithographs on the walls. Mimi Yigesu does double duty here as hostess and chef. Most of her rich stews, stir-fries (t'ibs) and vegetable dishes are flavored with red pepper (berbere) and cardamom, as well as a wide variety of other spices.

The staple bread is injera, a spongy, crepe-like sourdough flatbread made from the indigenous Ethiopian grain tef. The food is served on injera with more of the flatbread on the side. You tear off swatches of it and pick up mouthfuls of food with them. (The staff will bring forks and spoons if you insist.)

There are no appetizers, as such, at Langano, but my favorite way to start a meal here is the special kitfo: chopped raw beef (or nearly raw--it's been heated in a skillet) infused with butter, cardamom and berbere. This is the only item on the menu in which meat isn't fully cooked. It comes with a scoop of spiced soft cheese and a heap of collard greens.

Awaze t'ibs is a dish of tender strips of beef stir-fried with red pepper, bishop's weed (a spice known in Indian cuisine as ajowan) and tiny hot peppers. It's about the spiciest dish on the menu, but isn't as hot as a comparable Mexican or Indian dish. Ye-sega key wat is chicken stewed in a milder pepper sauce redolent of garlic, onion and sweet spices. The chicken literally falls off the bone.

There are other meat dishes, all based on beef and chicken, the only meats at Langano. The place offers about a dozen vegetable dishes, though, and they display the versatility of this cuisine.

Take ye-shiro wat--a very curious dish. The menu describes it as ground peas cooked in red sauce, but it looks more like a thick, buttery brown gravy, and there's a snootful of garlic in every bite. Ye-denech atikelt is more of an old friend. It's a potato-cabbage casserole with a few shreds of carrot, and the spicing will remind you of an Indian masala.

There is commercially made baklava for dessert, and you can get special Ethiopian coffee, a strong spiced coffee served in a colorful imported pot, for groups of two or more. The Valley finally has an East African restaurant, and it is an able ambassador.

BE THERE

Langano, 14838 Burbank Blvd., Sherman Oaks. Open 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday-Sunday. No alcohol. Street parking. MasterCard and Visa. Dinner for two, $28-$42. Suggested dishes: special kitfo, $8.75; awaze t'ibs, $7.50; ye-shiro wat, $5; ye-denech atikelt, $1.50. Call (818) 786-2670.

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