Nile Ethiopian Restaurant
2130 Magazine St., (504) 281-0859 nileneworleans.net
Ethiopian food can seem challenging for someone approaching it for the first time. It hasn’t been readily available around New Orleans until recently, and the standout features people tend to talk about include raw beef dishes (kitfo) and the sour, stretchy, crepelike bread (teff injera) traditionally used in place of utensils. No wonder some people are put off. But Nile, a neat, family-run cafe in the Lower Garden District, is a welcoming enough place to explore this lushly flavorful cuisine, and the lamb wot ($12) is an easy-to-love dish to start testing the waters. An Ethiopian wot is a sort of thick stew, in this case made with bits of lamb and onions cooked down together into a sweet and savory jam. The stew pulses with cardamom, cumin, garlic and red pepper, though it is more aromatic spice than sharp heat. Nile will provide a fork, but that teff injera bread is an instrumental part of the dish. Tear off small chunks, run them through the stew and keep the napkins handy.
Grilled Shrimp Over Pasta Bordelaise
3800 Canal St., (504) 482-9179; mandinasrestaurant.com
People from Bordeaux would not recognize this pasta Bordelaise ($18.95) as their own local cooking, though if they like garlic and shrimp they’d probably appreciate it anyway. Mandina’s uses the homegrown New Orleans meaning of “Bordelaise,” denoting an immense amount of garlic, parsley and butter rather than the classic French wine-based sauce. It’s tossed with spaghetti and strewn with a sauteed haul of good-sized shrimp. Mandina’s portion is characteristically generous, so be prepared to share or bring home leftovers.
La Salade de Crabe
3127 Esplanade Ave., (504) 945-5635 cafedegas.com
On any given day, it can seem like half the tables at this French bistro are ordering the crab salad ($13.50), a menu fixture for many years. It’s a straightforward and elegant composition of lump crabmeat over arugula, crunchy strands of shaved fennel, fried shallots and segments of juicy grapefruit, which are so ripe right now in the Louisiana winter. Fresh mint and tarragon vinaigrette finish the flavors for a salad that can stand as a first course or a light entrée.