At the end of last week’s review (of things eaten in Minneapolis’ excellent Mercado Central) I’d said that our eating out this weekend would probably involve Southeast Asian food in St. Paul. Well, it didn’t involve Southeast Asian food but we did eat in St. Paul. Instead it involved Ethiopian food. It had been a while since our last Ethiopian outing—a takeout meal picked up from Fasika in early 2021—and when I put the choice of cuisine to the missus and the friends we were going to be eating with, an Ethiopian outing was an easy pick. And as we’d been meaning to eat at Bolé for a while that was an easy pick as well. Here’s how it went.
As you may know, the first incarnation of Bolé was located on University Avenue in the Midway neighbourhood. Alas, it burned down during the civil unrest following the murder of George Floyd. The owners of the restaurant eventually ran a successful crowdfunding campaign that garnered them enough money to reopen (and I believe they shared the money collected in excess of their own goal with other causes). When they reopened it was not on University Ave. or elsewhere in Midway but in the Como neighbourhood—a hop, skip and a jump from the State Fairgrounds. The new restaurant, I understand, is both larger than the original and quite a lot fancier. It’s certainly fancier than the other Ethiopian stalwarts of St. Paul. It’s a bright, attractive restaurant and it’s a popular restaurant. It was quite full most of the time that we were there on Sunday afternoon—and I think I saw more non-Ethiopians eating there than I ever have at Fasika or Demera.
Fine but how about the food. Well, as is the case with a lot of immigrant cuisines, most Ethiopian restaurants in the US tend to have all but identical menus. There may be a few dishes on one menu that aren’t on the others but they’re generally drawing on the same template. Bolé does not depart from this general pattern but they do have some things I’ve not seen elsewhere in the area. We got a couple of these to start: an order of Kategna (lightly toasted injera rolled with the berbere spice blend and cut) and an order of Ater Roll (also featuring injera, this time not toasted and rolled with a mix of lentils and ground chickpeas). Both were very good indeed and I particularly liked the Kategna. We rounded out our starters with an order of Beef Sambusas. The filling was good but the sambusas themselves were fried to more of a crisp than I am either used to or prefer.
We got a bunch of things to follow. Kitfo—the Ethiopian analogue of beef tartare, mixed with berbere and niter kibbeh (spiced clarified butter). You can get it raw or cooked to medium—we got it raw and most of us had it as one of our favourite dishes at the meal. We also got two orders of beef tibs. The first was an order of Lega Tibs—which features juicier/more succulent meat—and the second was an order of Derek Tibs—the meat is cooked to more of a crisp and served on a sizzling platter. Both were very good. Rounding out the meats were an order of mild Yebegh Alicha (a lamb stew) and spicier Doro Wat (the classic chicken stew). We all liked the Yebegh Alicha a lot; the flavour of the stew itself in the Doro Wat was very good but the chicken seemed to have been overcooked.
It wasn’t just a meat blowout though. We also ordered the “Super Veggie Sampler” combination. This courtesy our server’s input. I had ordered two vegetable dishes and she pointed out that for the same price we could get the Super Veggie Sampler instead and try every single vegetarian dish they offer. I am very glad we listened to her: this may have been the best thing on the table. My favourites of the included dishes were the Miser (spiced red lentils), the Shiro (ground chickpeas with spices) and the Tigel Gomen (cabbage braised with other vegetables) but everything on the platter was excellent. This is billed as a dish for two people, by the way, but three could eat it with ease even if they got no other mains.
To end, a few selections from the dessert case in the main dining room (we were seated at a long high-top table by the bar in the other room). The desserts are home-made, we were told. We got a piece each of their Tiramisu and the Chocolate Mousse and Tres Leches cakes. All were tasty enough.
To drink just a few soft drinks and a mango juice at the start and a single Ethiopian coffee at the end (this was served sans any ceremony—I note this because our check reads “Ethiopian traditional coffee with ceremony”).
For a look at the restaurant and everything we ate, launch the slideshow below. Scroll down for thoughts on service and to see how much it all cost.
Service was very pleasant and very helpful (see above for the great assist with the veggie sampler order). As they got busier and busier our server was a little harder to find for the check and so forth but none of it amounted to anything worth complaining about. I will complain though about the floors in the bar area where we were seated: they were very slick and we had to walk carefully so as to not slip and fall.
Price? With included gratuity (we were a party of eight) the total came to $219. Or just about $27/head. That’s a very good value for how good the food was and how much of it there was—a decent amount of leftovers were generated. It was really enough food for nine hungry adults which would bring the real per head price down to $24/head, taking it into steal territory.
How would we rate it on the whole? I certainly liked it more than any of our meals at/from Fasika. I’d have to eat again at Demera—our previous favourite—to make a more confident call but the missus and my initial response to the meal was that it might have been our favourite Ethiopian meal so far in the Twin Cities. I’ll note here as well that I was disappointed to learn that Ghebre’s has closed. I’m not sure when it happened—it seemed desolate as we drove past it on Snelling and when I got home and checked online, sure enough, they’re permanently closed. Well, if you’re looking for a new favourite, Bolé might very well be it.
Alright, there probably will be no restaurant review next Tuesday as it’s the first of the month. The first review of November may well be of dinner at Hyacinth (where we’re booked a week from this coming Saturday). And will I actually post either a long-threatened first Ireland report or my last Kauai restaurant report this weekend? Let’s see.