La Reine de Saba
78, rue Jean-Pierre Timbaud, in the 11th Arrondissement.
01 48 05 21 47. Open Mon–Sat, noon–2:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.–midnight.
I consider myself a lover of what my European stomach would classify as “exotic” cuisine. Nevertheless, with the exception of a ferociously spicy fufu incident in South London, I have next to no culinary experience outside of the Maghreb. Given my mild trauma, I was lukewarm about a friend’s invitation to his favorite among the Ethiopian Paris restaurants—a mind-set that would radically change by the end of this tasty encounter.
Ignoring my culinary cauchemar, I headed to the hip rue Jean-Pierre Timbaud, where I found the tiny, timber-framed facade. Bracing my stomach, I stepped into what felt like the inside of an avocado cluttered with tribal masks, tapestries and landscapes. A wooden bar and bamboo gazebo delivered the crowning blow to the tacky yet endearing decor. Apart from the table awaiting my fashionably late arrival, a good dozen French patrons polished off their dishes with gusto. A smiling young Ethiopian waitress sauntered through the room.
Overwhelmed by the parade of dishes I couldn’t even pronounce, I wondered, Where are the pictures? Luckily, our “host,” having spent years in Africa, had already ordered for everyone. Later, I realized that, as at many Pars restaurants, the well-rounded and inexpensive menu here proposed a stress-free choice to ignorant diners like me.
A leisurely half hour later, two platters of yefeseg beyonetou arrived. This traditional dish included six assorted sauces accompanied by beef ragout, spicy chicken stew with boiled eggs and some veggie sides all served on a spongy crêpe-like flatbread called injera. A helping of kefto (beef tartare) embellished with a trio of plain, spinach and pepper-infused curd cheese supplemented our feast. The sight of the copious platters annihilated any residual misgivings. Before I knew it, I had seized a piece of injera and begun sampling the heaped treats—sans silverware of course. The chicken stew delivered the hearty, deep flavor of a boeuf bourguignon with a spicy, but not devastating, kick. The mystery sauces (I identified lentils and a sweet corn emulsion among them) were great fun to pair with the meats, while the tartare and curd cheese was a refreshing alternative.
Dessert consisted of a honey-drenched peanut baklava whose texture was grainier than the standard version. Not a sucker for flaky pastries, I relished the chewiness of this Ethiopian translation. The highlights, however, were the tea infused with cinnamon, ginger and cardamom and the spiced coffee, in which I detected hues of cardamom and nutmeg.
While I won’t pretend to judge the meal’s authenticity, our host, seasoned in African cuisine, appeared every bit as content as the rest of us. Each dish packed flavor and personality. What the service lacked in speed it provided in smiles—a precious commodity in Paris restaurants. Scrapping the utensils definitely amplified my delight, resulting in an entertaining dinner—when has eating with your fingers ever not been fun? If you also have a taste for the exotic, I recommend you ditch the silverware for an evening and dig into this delicious Ethiopian experience.
In a nutshell: Down-home Ethiopian cooking infused with a very manageable amount of spices and loads of fun.
Price check: Menu at 17–20 euros per person (appetizer and platter, or platter and dessert); main dishes à la carte at 10–20 euros.
If you’re in the 11th Arrondissement but want something more modern, try le Chateaubriand. Read the review.
129, ave Parmentier, in the 11th Arrondissement.
01 43 57 45 95. Tues–Sat, 7:30–11:00 p.m.
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La Reine de Saba