With its three dining rooms, dim lights and loud rap and East African pop music, Hidmo looks and sounds like a place you'd find on Capitol Hill. Instead, this Eritrean and East...
With its three dining rooms, dim lights and loud rap and East African pop music, Hidmo looks and sounds like a place you’d find on Capitol Hill.
Instead, this Eritrean and East African bar and restaurant sits near the Chinatown International District, serving fine, cheap comfort food more appropriate for a toned-down, hole-in-the-wall dining experience — even if its interior setting suggests otherwise.
Hidmo has an interesting mix of beef and lamb stews and pasta with marinara sauce, an influence from when Italy occupied the region during the Mussolini era.
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Kelwa Derho ($9.95), a serving of white chicken cubes, is pan-fried to near perfection — juicy on the inside and seared so you can taste the coating of chili powder, onions, garlic and olive oil.
Zelzel Tibsi ($9.95) — sautéed beef, onions, green peppers and garlic drenched in butter — should provide comfort for neophytes who don’t want to venture too far.
But the greatest pleasure is FitFit, a popular East African breakfast treat that is served as a lunch entree ($7.95), appetizer ($6.95) or dinner entree ($8.95). (Hidmo knows when it has a good thing.)
FitFit is made up of pieces of fresh bread pan-fried in homemade butter and chili powder, with a side of sour cream to tame the heat. It may remind you of the Italian bread salad panzanella or even your mother’s Thanksgiving stuffing.
Most entrees are served on communal plates, with the spongy bread injera to scoop up the meat. The entrees come with two vegetable sides and a basic salad of mostly crisp lettuce and fresh tomatoes with a light touch of oil, vinegar and ground pepper — simple, but it works, especially since the entrees are so heavily spiced and include enough butter to rival any French offering.
Not everything works, though. The lamb and beef in the stews were too tough and dry. And the vegetarian dishes were uninspiring, except for the flavorful, spicy chickpeas.
Service is inconsistent and the food sometimes arrives 10 minutes later than it should. But that’s because this restaurant, run by a family from Eritrea, is understaffed. Sarah Teclab, a cook, waitress and family member, is your best bet in breaking down the menu and cooking your dinner to your specification.
The restaurant, which originally opened two years ago six blocks away, moved in August to this bigger and more visible location. To be hip, the owners spiced the rooms with some trendy colors — peach, green and orange — dimmed the lights and cranked up the music during dinner hours. But they may have outsmarted themselves.
My party could barely see the food or hear the waitress. Although the back room was the best lit, we were steered toward the front.
Communal dining requires a party to interact. If the owners would turn up the lights, perhaps they would see that.
Meat combination: The Zelzel Tibsi, sautéed beef, green peppers and onions drenched in homemade butter, was the most impressive. There were also three kinds of lamb: Alicha Beghie, lamb ribs slow-cooked with carrots, potatoes and curry; Kelwa Beghie, cubes of lamb with onions, chili tomatoes and garlic; and Zegni Beghie, pieces of lamb cooked in hot sauce. Be cautious, though. There were plenty of bone slivers in the stew.
Vegetable combination: This included spinach, okra, buttered carrots, green and yellow beans, a spicy chick-pea purée and curry chick-pea purée. The spicy chick-pea purée worked well with the bread injera. But you might need the dark-red hot sauce for the other vegetables because they didn’t have enough flavor to stand on their own.
Two Redhook beers: Beer goes well with East African food, which may be why Hidmo has a larger selection of domestic beer than most restaurants. Beers range from $2.50 to $3.
Itemized bill, meal for two
Meat combination $10.95
Vegetable combination $8.95
Two Redhook beers $6.00
Tan Vinh: 206-515-5656 or firstname.lastname@example.org