Selam Ethiopian & Eritrean Cuisine

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Selam interior

If you were looking for further validation that Central Florida's culinary scene is becoming more diverse, consider this: Not only do we have an Ethiopian restaurant, Nile, in its second decade of operation, we now have a second one operating simultaneously. What's more, the new restaurant, Selam, features the cuisines of Ethiopia and Eritrea. (Though that's a fine line; more on that in a moment.)

Like Nile, Selam is situated in the Tourist World part of town. That's a pretty smart choice. Nile was not the first Ethiopian restaurant in the area. Two or three others tried to introduce the foods from the Horn of Africa over the past 25 years or so but never lasted more than a few months. Location, I assumed, had something to do with it. They had opened in a location next to the 33d Street jail and on a sketchy stretch of South Orange Blossom Trail. But an argument could also be made that the dining public wasn't yet quite ready to be more adventurous.


Written by Scott Joseph on .

Tiffins ext

When I think about the top tier restaurants at Walt Disney World Resorts I usually think of Flying Fish, Citricos and California Grill, though the latter has declined somewhat in terms of experience. After a recent visit to Jiko - The Cooking Place, I'm prepared to include that Animal Kingdom Lodge restaurant in the upper echelon, too. (Victoria & Albert's is in a higher tier all by itself.)

What all of those restaurants have in common is that they are accessible without the requirement to purchase a ticket to one of the theme parks. Which is not to say there aren't good restaurants inside the parks. Certainly Hollywood Brown Derby at Disney's Hollywood Studios and Monsieur Paul at Epcot's France pavilion offer a higher standard than a basic meal.

In that category of restaurants I now include Tiffins, a surprisingly adventurous and slightly upscale restaurant appropriately located inside Animal Kingdom. I was invited recently to dine with some WDW executives, so my experience wasn't the same as an everyday visitor, but I liked what I tasted, and what I saw going on at nearby tables.

Jiko -- The Cooking Place will be at Chef's Gala

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Jiko table

Jiko - The Cooking Place is among the restaurants that will be participating in this year's Chef's Gala. I was asked if I'd like to sample the dish that Jiko's chef, Edward T. Mendoza, would be offering at the April 14 event, so I said sure, why not? I hadn't been to Jiko in a long time, it would be nice to see what's going on there these days.

Good things, it turns out. Let me put it this way: As soon as the bus drops you off at the World Showplace at the beginning of Heart of Florida's Chef's Gala, head directly to the station, or cooking place, if you will, where Mendoza and his team will be serving their Isitambu.

Flavors Nigerian Restaurant

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Flavors pounded yam

Let me say right off the bat that a visit to Flavors Nigerian restaurant isn't for the faint of heart. There's something about the place that doesn't feel quite right, as though it isn't finished or ready to be open to the public.

But let's face it, if you're faint of heart then you probably wouldn't step inside a Nigerian restaurant in the first place. So never mind the smudges on the glass in front of the steam table with the day's offerings or the way the covers on the trays don't quite seem to fit. Come on in and try something different.

Harambe Nights at Disney's Animal Kingdom

Written by Scott Joseph on .


Walt Disney World launched a new summer event on Saturday that takes guests into the Animal Kingdom theme park after hours.

Harambe ballonHarambe Nights is a celebration of the 20th anniversary of the animated movie "The Lion King." It takes place in the Harambe Village section of Disney's Animal Kingdom park. It's a separate ticket event that begins as the park is closing for the day.

Guests gather in the streets of the village and sip beer, wine or a cocktail made with rum, passion fruit and guava (very sweet). There's food here, too, but it's mostly modest fare. There were some hamburgerlike egg rolls, meatballs, chicken legs and a curried fish. Don't fill up on this stuff— there's much more after the show.

Nile Ethiopian Cuisine Still Going Strong

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Nile coffee

Nile Ethiopian Restaurant has been around for six and a half years, which is about six years longer than any other Ethiopian restaurants lasted in the area. I have my theories why Nile succeeded when the others failed, but at the heart of the matter is simply this: Nile serves wonderful Ethiopian food as authentically as possible.

That means no utensils. None. They’re just not provided. Instead, you eat the saucy wats and other delicacies with your hands. Actually, you might consider the injera, the spongy bread made with teff, to be a utensil. Grab a piece of injera and pinch some wat with it and bring it to your mouth. Repeat.

Jiko - The Cooking Place

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Jiko breadI was invited to attend a media dinner at Jiko - The Cooking Place recently, and I jumped at the chance. I've always enjoyed the food at Jiko, the premium dining venue at Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge, and I relished tasting some of the new menu items now being offered by executive chef Jonathon O’Brien.

The menu is still, of course, appropriately African centric, and to its credit, Jiko doesn't pull back on spicing, when bold spicing is called for, or fall back on the "common denominator" entrees that appeal to a broader array of tourist palates, i.e. steak and potatoes. Isn't it much more appealing to offer something new and exotic?

Well, exotic to an extent. Such as with the boldly flavored dips that are offered with the bread basket, which itself is chockfull of anything but the, um, white bread variety of bread. Instead you have crispy pappadam made with lentil flour and with a hint of pepper, or lavosh, the flatbread, with poppy seeds, or naan, the Indian bread, here with yogurt and flax seeds. And to accompany them, vibrant dips with multiple layers of flavors. There was bhuna masala, a dark red curry fashioned out of tomatoes, coconut, tamarind and chile peppers. And sagh dahl, a slightly milder dip that the hot bhuna masala, made with lentils and spinach. And hummus, made special with the addition of kalamata olives, or chermoula, a Moroccan marinade of herbs, olive oil and lemon juice that is usually used with fish but is pretty tasty just with bread.

Sanaa at Kidani Village

Written by SJO Staff on .

Artful African with Indian Influences

Sanaa is the newest full-service restaurant to open at Walt Disney World, the first since the Wave washed up at the Contemporary Resort a year ago.

Sanaa (say it with me: sah-NAH) opened May 1st with the Kidani Village, one of the properties in the Disney Vacation Club (say it with me: timeshare). Kidani Village is part of the Animal Kingdom Lodge compound, and Sanaa, Like the Lodge’s Jiko and Boma restaurants, has an African theme both in decor and menu. But unlike those restaurants, Sanaa uses the spices and cooking techniques of India to inspire the food.

I recently was treated to a menu tasting at Sanaa, and I must say I liked most of what I tasted.

I certainly liked what I saw. The dining room, which is supposedly modeled after an African market, is beautifully decorated and nicely appointed with  hanging bottles that represent the market’s wares, and light fixtures that resemble loosely woven baskets. It’s colorful and bright, though not nearly as garishly so as the publicity photos depict. In fact, when the sun goes down the ambience is dark and moody.Sanaa

Before sunset, however, through the nine-foot floor to ceiling windows, you’re likely to spot numerous wildlife (well, I guess technically they’re not wild) roaming about the resort’s “savannah.” Just after my companions and I were seated, an ostrich that had been pecking about several yards on away moved out of sight and two giraffes galloped  by. Then a small herd of horned beasts, oxen perhaps, but I could be wrong, stopped by to graze. I don’t know of too many places in this country that can offer that sort of vista.

I recalled thinking that it was a good thing Jiko didn’t have views like that or it would be awkward ordering that restaurant’s ostrich strudel. But there was none on this menu, which was developed by John Clark, who oversees all the Animal Kingdom Lodge restaurants, and Sanaa chef Bob Getchell.

Nile Ethiopian Cuisine

Written by SJO Staff on .

Over the years a number of Ethiopian restaurants have tried to make a go of it in Orlando but all failed. But Nile Ethiopian Cuisine has been around for a good year and a half now, about a year longer than any of the others. I think this one is going to make it.

At the base of all Ethiopian food – literally – is injera, a spongy bread that resembles an immense pancake. (Indeed, injera is cooked like a pancake.) It is made from teff, the world’s smallest cereal grain. Whatever food you order, injera will serve as the platform, covering the bottom of a large round platter, the various stews grouped on top of it.

Stews, called wat, are the most common dishes. These might include variations of beef or chicken, but pork is never served. There are a few seafood selections on Nile’s menu, but Ethiopia is a landlocked country and seafood dishes are not common. Vegetarian wat versions feature lentils or split peas.

Ethiopian restaurants are wonderful places for vegetarians to dine as meatless meals are a big part of the country’s cultural heritage. About half of Ethiopia’s population is Muslim and the other half is comprised of Christians who observe nearly 200 days of fasting annually during which meat, poultry and dairy products may not be consumed.

Most wat include finely chopped onions and berbere, a red paste that might be compared to an Indian curry in that it is made with myriad spices and can be quite hot. Less spicy foods, called alicha, can be found on an Ethiopian menu but I wouldn’t call them mild – they’re still infused with onion, garlic and green pepper and have multiple layers of flavors.

At Nile, the vegetarian kik alicha ($10.95) was one of my favorites. It featured yellow split peas blended with onions and green peppers seasoned with a touch of garlic.

Doro wat ($12.95), something of a national dish, had small pieces of chicken blended with berbere and onions and served with a whole hard-boiled egg. Gored gored ($12.95), another well-known dish, had cubes of beef seasoned with red peppers, mitmita (another hot blend of spices) and butter.

Nile serves its own tej, a wine made from honey. It’s a cloudy, pale yellow liquid with a taste that is just a tad bitter, despite the honey base. It is presented in a small bulb with a narrow neck that looks like it is the decanter. But you drink the wine from this vessel, holding it between your first and second fingers with your palm up.

Coffee is Ethiopia’s top commodity and the coffee ceremony is a big part of a traditional meal. The coffee service area occupies a space in the front of the dining room. The whole beans are roasted in a small metal saucepan while incense burns nearby. When the beans are roasted the pan is brought to the table and waved about so the guests can enjoy the aroma. Once the beans are ground and brewed, the coffee is poured from a clay pot called a jebena into small handleless cups. It’s a very strong brew with a chewy texture and an aroma that is earthy and slightly charred. Desserts are not a part of a traditional Ethiopian menu.

I always thought one of the problems with past Ethiopian restaurants was their choice of location. Nile should do well in this location, at least with the influx of tourists who are usually up to trying something new. The question is whether locals will swallow their pride in order to swallow some wonderful Ethiopian food.

Jiko - The Cooking Place

Written by SJO Staff on .

Jiko -- The Cooking Place at Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge finds its voice

JikoWhen Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge first opened nearly eight years ago, its signature restaurant, Jiko, left a bland impression. The name is Swahili for The Cooking Place, and the menu was supposed to focus on South African cuisine. But what was offered was a cuisine without a country. Soon after, Anette Grecchi-Gray, one of Disney's pioneering women chefs, took over and started making improvement. Now, Grecchi-Gray has left the company and left the restaurant in the hands of chef Brian Piasecki, who admitted when he took over Jiko that he had never been to Africa and knew little about the cuisine. Whatever he did to educate himself seems to have worked. Jiko now serves food that is creative and well-executed, a fusion of styles and techniques that utilize the seasonings and spices associated with African cuisine.

I liked the berbere-braised lamb shank ($27), a sizeable hunk of meat, slow-cooked so the meat was fall-off-the-bone tender. The berbere is a spice mixture of chilies, ginger, coriander and other flavors associated with Ethiopian cuisine. The rub gave a spicy note to the mild lamb. Arctic char ($31) was another favorite, a fatty-fleshed fish with characteristics of both trout and salmon (in flavor -- not in appearances; that would be an odd fish indeed). The fish was mild flavored and spiced up with fennel pollen salt. It was accompanied by mealie pap, a South African staple of cornmeal mush. Some good appetizer choices are kalamata olive flatbread ($9), or ostrich schnitzel ($13) -- try ordering that one five times real fast.

Service was of the type that Disney is well-known for. And be sure to give the wine list a good look-see. It's the largest collection of South Africa wines in North America. Ask for a taste of the Delheim Gewurztraminer, which goes perfectly with the Portland Pier scallops ($31) and its accompanying spicy eggplant kottu.
The restaurant was designed by Jeffery Beers and is a salute to the opening scenes of The Lion King. The columns are supposed to represent the decorative neck-stretching rings worn by Swahili women, and the light fixtures are floating sculptures of birds that get smaller as they disappear in the distance.
Of course, you do have to put up with the occasionally under-dressed tourist, but Jiko has become one of Disney's better dining choices.