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    Restaurant Review ~ Dukem / 1114-18 U St., NW

    Eating Ethiopian

    Few Washingtonians need an intro to this U Street Fave: Dukem. Famous for its exotic dishes (well, exotic to Western tastes) and for its Ethiopian musical entertainment, this destination offers a mini buffet at lunchtime, a full bar, two dining rooms, and a next-door mini grocery for takeout orders and Ethiopian foodstuffs and spices. Perhaps one of its hottest sellers may be the various injera breads on offer . . . that is, if you are a fan of the country’s unique spongy bread used as a spoon for picking up the ingredients of the vegetable and meat-based stews.

    Dining at Dukem affords newcomers to this cuisine a chance to sample some of the authentic delicacies of the country. To help out, the waitstaff graciously offers help and advice, even finding out if you want your order spicy or mild. If you have the palate for it, ask for it spicy hot. That way you will get the full impact of Ethiopian cooking.

    Do start off with one of its very few appetizers, a sambusa — a vegetable or meat-filled pastry that resembles the Indian samosa or the Latino empanada. But make sure you ask for one that is freshly made and not from the buffet table, where sitting out toughens the dough. The meat sambusa is relatively mild, so you won’t be offended by too many chilies.

    When you consider entrées, you will find several menu sections: vegetarian, meat, and a combination selection to let you sample several different options. If you are partial to chicken, try to doro wat, a traditional chicken stew of meat simmered in a red berbere sauce (chili based on hot) or the ginger sauce (mild). The menu offers patrons a choice of drumstick or chicken breast, and the latter offers you a very full portion with no bones to fuss with. As an added garnish, the kitchen tops the dish with a peeled, hard-boiled egg.

    As presumably with most Ethiopian entrées, the doro wat comes heaped on a round of the injera bread, which acts both as sponge and spoon. You will also receive an added portion of the bread for additional sampling. What is missing is a scoop of vegetables, such as cooked cabbage or carrots, and/or a scoop of lentils.

    You may want to add dessert to your meal, but the menu alerts to ask your server for availability of items that don’t sound particularly Ethiopian: tiramisu, baklava, and white chocolate cake.

    Also, before you leave you may want to find out about their entertainment schedule. Very clearly, music is part of the venue. Right by the entrance management has set up a small but complete stage setting for musicians to perform. According to their website, musicians perform from 11 p.m. to 3 a.m. four nights a week. Check to see if reservations are needed.

    Note that the Dukem theme has sprung up in Baltimore, so if you visit friends and family there, you can treat one and all to an Ethiopian experience. But in DC, head to the U Street corridor and eat well.

    Dukem Ethiopian Restaurant / Sun.-Thu. 9am-2am, Fri. & Sat. to 3am. Entrée price range: $12.95-$31.95. 1114-18 U St., NW; (202) 667-8735; www.dukemrestaurant.com.

    Alexandra Greeley is a food writer, editor, and restaurant reviewer. She has authored books on Asian and Mexican cuisines published by Simon & Schuster, Doubleday, and Macmillan. Other credits include restaurant reviews and food articles for national and regional publications, as well as former editor of the Vegetarian Times and former food editor/writer for the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong. Click here to visit her website.