We always remember our firsts. Sometimes, your first was painful, traumatic, it tore you apart to the point of bleeding, and the scar tissue will forever be reminder of the lesson you had to learn so you’d never make that mistake again. Sometimes, your first was painful, but it was a pretty-in-pink little pain that hurt so good and led to bigger and better seconds, thirds, fourths, until death do you part. Sometimes, the first was amazing, awesome, so incredibly out-of-body that you scream until breathless, and it spoils you something naughty so that everything subsequent will never live up to it, ever. Never.
Fassica was my first Ethiopian, and I was completely, totally, utterly swept off my feet. Nothing after it could ever compare. Sure, Messob was good enough to comfirm that I like Ethiopian, but the restaurant itself wasn’t good enough to make me forget my first. Fassica.
So, I went back to Fassica for lunch, this time with co-workers in tow. I had raved about Fassica back in spring, mentioned it on our many coffee breaks again even through the summer, but told them that if they wanted to try it with me, we would have to wait until after the W. How convenient that Wedding Week ended two days before the elimination that would inspire a whole week of Last Suppers in the area around my soon-to-be old company! Convenient, indeed.
Fassica finally has a permanent sign to replace the canary yellow and royal blue plastic banner that used to flap in the breeze above the front door. When we walked in the front door, she was there. She is Sebel Asfaw, the owner and the only person working in the whole place. She looked different – a little older, a little more worked and worn – but when she saw us, her face was bright and she welcomed us with a wide, warm smile, just like the sweet Ethiopian aunt I never had. She had recognized me, and though she didn’t know my name, she gave me a hug and thanked me for everything. Everything? That seemed a little much, but nonetheless, I didn’t think she would know...but I guess she does.
We looked over the menu, and though it has good descriptions of the foods, we had lots of questions (mostly about spice levels). In the end, we ordered the Fassica Special combination platter. This is what I had done last time at Fassica, the best first-time introduction to Ethiopian food. This is the best thing for first-timers, right? Sebel nodded with a smile and then softly shuffled back to the kitchen.
Sebel had dropped off a basket of folded injera at the table. A soft ash gray color, the Ethiopian flat bread made from teff, a type of wheat that Sebel imports from her home country. The flat bread is about a ¼ inch thick of light, airy sponge, thinning out to feather light paper weight at the edges. I resisted eating too much – the stuff is a sponge, and I didn’t want to expand into a teff-y ball in my stomach before the food arrived.
Because she is the only one in the restaurant, Sebel does everything – she is the hostess, she is the server, and she is the cook. Because she does everything, service is a little bit slow. I’m not sure if slow is slow, or if that’s simply the way Ethiopian food is served. It didn’t matter to us, as we were deep in conversation about, well, me.
What happened? I told them.
What did they tell you? I told them.
How long do you have? I told them.
So, what are you going to do now? Eat everything in Culver City’s sight, do a little traveling, but after that, I have no idea.
Just as I was about to launch into my future fantasy job of baking cupcakes and selling them for a million dollars a piece, Sebel came back with our lunch. Last time, it was an enormous oval, this time a rectangle the size of a large flat screen monitor. Ohmigod, this is definitely a sign that I need a new career. The platter was a gorgeous colorful patchwork of various Ethiopian foods from canary yellow, scarlet red and chestnut brown lentils, to deep dark green collard greens, to fresh green salad, all resting atop and juices soaking into the spongy soft, subtly sour injera underneath.
Everything was delicious, from the barely bitter yet tender gomen wot (collard greens) to the ever-so-slight natural sweetness of the yeater kik alicha (yellow lentils), yemisir kik (red lentils), and yemisir (brown lentils), to the mild atkilit alicha (cabbage, carrots, and potatoes), to the earthy alicha wot (can you believe I ate lamb!?!), to the delayed spicy heat in the various tibs (beef). Everyone else seems to tangle their tastebuds over doro wot, a deeply flavorful and complex chicken stew, but I’ll be honest, I didn’t like the chicken and the stew highlighted in the center of the platter, so much as the injera underneath that had turned scarlet red from the juices, fat, and drippings that had seeped out and soaked into the sponge-y bread. Cool, creamy ayib (Ethiopian cottage cheese, homemade by Sebel) and a green salad with Italian dressing were refreshing sides.
My co-workers liked all of it, some things more than others, and when I saw the mostly cleaned out plate of food that was probably enough to feed six, I wanted to breathe a sigh relief. I couldn’t. Like the first time, my eyes had outdone my appetite. I was so full, I was breathless. Sebel asked us if we wanted to finish with Ethiopian coffee, but we passed – I knew what it was about, but on thi
s, their first time, my co-workers didn’t.
Shouldn’t put it all out there the first time, or they won’t need to come back. ;)
Fassica Ethiopian Restaurant
10401 Washington Boulevard (@ Motor Avenue)
Culver City, CA 90232