Roseville Dining Spotlight: Kemen Ethiopian and Middle Eastern Restaurant
Kemem Ethiopian and Middle Eastern Restaurant, 1060 Pleasant Grove Boulevard, Suite 100, Roseville, 916-945-9867
Never have I ever been so completely unaware of what I was about to consume. Ethiopian cuisine was a mystery (as I’m sure it is to the average suburban diner). If, like me, you’ve yet to sample it, you’re missing out. The warm, almost sensuous flavors and spices entice the palate and coerce the brain to keep eating…even as breathing becomes a chore.
Our table began with a couple of appetizers that were familiar, including falafel—deep-fried fritters of mashed chickpeas seasoned with cumin and coriander that boasted a wonderfully crunchy, golden-brown crust and soft, airy, bread-like interior. Served with fresh pita triangles, a tomato-cucumber salad, and a tangy, cool, yogurt sauce, they were a perfect introduction for the food that followed.
The lentil sambusas were another solid starter. Similar to an Indian samosa, Kemem’s version featured fried pasta wrappers stuffed with ground lentils and were accompanied by a tomato-chile sauce reminiscent of what my Mexican mother-in-law would call red chile mole (read: spicy and addictive).
Our server, Bruk (Brook), was kind enough to give us a demonstration on the proper etiquette for the consumption of this type of cuisine, specifically injera—the spongy, gluten-free rolled bread (similar in taste to sourdough) that was served with our entrées. “We eat with our hands,” he explained as he placed a sheet of injera on the plate, covered a section with beef zilzil tebs, then tore a piece off and deftly manipulated the fajita-like strips of meat and bell peppers into a neat package to be devoured. Sensing the potential for unwanted dry cleaning, I opted for a fork. In either case, the resulting mouthful was an epiphany…a symphony of flavors and ingredients, including chile, cardamom, turmeric, bell peppers, and beef.
Throwing caution to the East African wind, I ordered doro wot: the national chicken dish of Ethiopia featuring piquant and savory braised chicken legs and a whole hard-boiled egg with a combination of spices known as berbere (chile pepper, garlic, ginger, dried basil, Ethiopian cardamom, black and white pepper, fenugreek, and rue—the latter of which is a bitter shrub). It’s no wonder this is the national dish—every bite revealed another layer of exciting flavors.
There was also a buffet featuring several more intriguing items, including numerous vegan and vegetarian options. If you’re in a hurry, I recommend it as everything is made in-house, including the injera. If not, order off the menu and enjoy...your patience will be rewarded.
Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. (Tuesday-Sunday)
Try This: Spiced Tea, Lentil Sambusa, Beet Root Salad, Beef Zilzil Tebs, Doro Wot, Kofta, Vegan Combination, Semolina Cake, Caramelized Peach Crêpe, Coffee
Drinks: Beer and wine
Heads-Up: Numerous vegan and gluten-free options; daily lunch buffet from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. (noon-3 p.m. on Saturday) and Tuesday evenings from 5-8 p.m.; all Ethiopian entrées served with injera, pita bread, or basmati rice; kids’ menu; delivery available via GrubHub; roasted Ethiopian coffee made from scratch; follow their Facebook page for specials and updates
By Lorn Randall
Photos by Dante Fontana