Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Ras Restaurant & Lounge – St. Paul, MN

D.Rough and I have wanted to eat at Ras for a number of months and we finally had a free night to go. It’s on west 7th in St. Paul very close to the airport. This also means that ALL of the cabbies for the airport hang out here at the bar. Think about that, friends. All of your cab drivers are well lubricated before driving you home from your vacation and business trips. It also means the parking lot behind the restaurant is always full of cars and it’s kind of a maze to figure out.

We went inside and were both amazed at how spacious the place is. It doesn’t look like it from the outside, but it’s pretty expansive AND they have a party room in the basement for banquets and large gatherings. We grabbed a booth towards the back of the building and the waitress brought us menus right away. We had already looked at the menu online, so we had a general idea what we wanted. We checked it out though, just to be on the safe side.

The waitress asked for our drink order and we had read signs that said beer was REALLY cheap here. I repeat – cheap beer here. After some confusion on what they actually had on tap, D.Rough ordered herself a Newcastle and I scored a Capn n Coke. The place has a half-bar-half-restaurant feel to it, but people in the booths were drinking and people at the bar were eating food off of giant platters – so it all works out.

D.Rough and I were both starving and had really been craving Ethiopian food for a few weeks, so we went large on this order. We initially had thought we wanted a veggie combo, but it just didn’t seem like enough food. So we got a little crazy and ordered the Ras Special Combination. This is basically everything on the menu. We’re not joking. It says on the menu that it serves three people. The waitress seemed a little confused by our order, especially when she asked “only one?” We weren’t sure whether she was having fun with us or just didn’t hear us right, so we pointed to it on the menu. We were about 80% sure we were going to get what we wanted.

Then we turned our attention to the nipple-themed table cloth. Seriously, it looked and felt like an entire sheet of pleather had sprouted male nipples and been thrown onto the table. Really hilarious. In fact, here’s a photo, just to give you some idea of what it is like – the photo won’t do it justice though…

The waitress arrived with our food. It was on a small sizzling cast iron skillet which she poured onto our injera bread on the platter. It looked delicious. I waited for the rest of it, but the waitress had walked away. D.Rough said this wasn’t what we ordered, but I suggested maybe it came out in shifts. This turned out to NOT be the case. The manager came around to our table and checked to make sure everything was alright. We said we thought we got the wrong thing – we ordered the Ras Special Combo? The manager said in an incredulous voice, “The BIG one?” Yup. That’s the one. She smiled at us and said she’d take care of everything. She had a quick conference with the waitress – we SINCERELY hope she didn’t get in trouble for this, it wasn’t a big deal – and sent the waitress back to the back with the incorrect order. Then she thought about it and called her back. She took the incorrect dish out of the girl’s hands and put it on our table. She then happily told us to go ahead and start with this since it was already cooked. I said, “it’s an appetizer!” and she laughed along with us.

[Note: The manager’s name is Zee – she could be the owner, in fact. Zee is absolutely fabulous. She has amazing clothes, amazing sunglasses, and there is an air about her that is unmistakably “The Boss”. In all the right ways. She made sure we were well taken care of and after the dinner introduced herself and asked us if this was the first time we’d been there. She said she hopes to see us again soon. She absolutely WILL, by the way. She’s a great host!]

We made sure to convey we weren’t at all mad about the mix-up in the ordering. We’re pretty patient people and don’t get all bent out of shape about these kinds of things. We had nothing but time and we HAD to have Ethiopian food. So it appeared what D.Rough and I had on our table was the Ras Special, as opposed to the Ras Special Combo. We dug into this platter of food. It was a generous-sized plate of onions, tomatoes, and pieces of beef. Pay attention to the size of the platter by looking at the perspective against D.Rough’s arm. It’s a serious platter of food. It sounds simple, but whatever the beef was cooked in was delicious, especially with the red spicy dipping sauce on the side. For those of you unfamiliar with Ethiopian food, you eat it with injera bread – which is sort of like a delicious crepe – and scoop up the food instead of using silverware. The flavors of this entire thing were crazy good. We ate about 75% of this dish before we realized we still had food for three people coming very soon. We forced ourselves to slow down and eventually stopped. The waitress came out and took what was left of our platter away (which we were a little bummed about, but only momentarily). I then realized it was to make room for the enormous platter that was on its way out.

When I say enormous, I mean it. Titanic might be a better word. The platter covered the entire table. The entire table.

Remember when I said it has the entire menu on it. I wasn’t joking. I will tell you everything that’s on this platter, even though it won’t mean much to you unless you know Ethiopian food names.
Beef Keye Wot, Beef Alicha Wot, Minchet Abish, Lamb Keye Wot, Lamb Alicha Wot, Lamb Alicha Fitfit, Doro Wot, Chicken, homemade cottage cheese, a cabbage and carrot salad, and the entire veggie combination (spicy split lentil and yellow peas, Misir Alicha, Shiro, Gomen, Misir Keye, and some other things). I TOLD you it was serious.

The entire thing was served on a whole bunch of injera. Some Ethiopian places give you a basket of injera to pull apart and use and some places just have you eating away at your plate as you progress across your platter. This was one of the latter.

We attacked this thing. We weren’t exactly sure what each thing was, but it didn’t take long to figure out which were our favorites. There was a delicious piece of berbere chicken in the middle of the platter with some sauce and also a harboiled egg. Amazing. I’m a fan of the spicy yellow peas and lentils. D.Rough is a fan of various indeterminate meats. We ate and ate and ate and ate and it was like nothing actually disappeared. Keep in mind we had just eaten a large entrée as an appetizer less than 5 minutes before the giant platter came out. Here’s a photo of what it looked like when we threw in the towel and gave up. It looks like we didn’t do much damage.

I think I knew what two of the 14 things were. Fortunately, every time we eat Ethiopian food, we have amazing luck and haven’t actually found anything we DON’T like. Yes, it all appears to be different colored mush, but it all tastes different. The food here is amazing. There were a couple of things that had a couple of bones which we put aside on the platter, and just a very small portion of stringy meat, but overall, this food was top-notch Ethiopian cuisine and we would recommend it highly. In fact, we went to a party after eating dinner and raved about the food – hopefully, we’ll drum up some more business for Zee.

After we had given up, the waitress came over with a large Styrofoam to-go container. I’ve actually never seen a to-go container that large before. It’s hard to tell how big it is in the photo, but it’s pretty major. The waitress had D.Rough help her hold the giant platter (it’s made of metal so it isn’t light at all) while she deftly folded the leftover injera with the food contained inside and slid it off into the to-go container. It barely closed and D.Rough estimated the thing weighed EASILY more than 5 pounds. I’m going to agree, since I had to carry it to the car using two hands.

We also noticed a large empty portable buffet in the back corner of the restaurant, so we are wondering if this place has a lunch-time buffet. I hope beyond all hope that this is true. That could be the best idea ever. I’m going to ask the next time D.Rough and I go there. This could be a game-changer, people.

Overall, fantastic dining experience. The service was just a tiny bit slow but we did have some minor complications, so it wasn’t a problem. The food absolutely made up for it and they also made sure we were taken care of. The waitresses worked our table in various shifts and the bartender even helped us out with some drinks when he walked past our table. D.Rough and I will be back. In fact, I’m trying to find a reason to throw a party so we can go hang out in the basement party room and fill our friends with platters full of amazing Ethiopian food. Go and eat at Zee’s restaurant – you’ll be glad you did.

Top 5 things about Ras Restaurant & Lounge
1. Enormous platter of food (Ras Special Combo) you get to eat with your fingers!
2. The staff makes sure you’re well taken care of – especially Zee
3. Ras Special
4. VERY cheap drinks (and FOOD, for that matter)
5. Great descriptions on the menu so you know what you’re ordering

Bottom 5 things
1. Slow on bringing the check after the meal
2. Order misunderstanding – which was taken care of immediately!
3. The parking lot is kind of a Willy Wonka-style hodge-podge
4. Not in a fantastic part of town, but don’t be scared – no one will attack you
5. I don’t have any business trips planned and yet I’m trying to figure out a way I can get a cab ride to Ras after arriving back at MSP before I go home



Used Cars St Paul said...

Looks delish but that plate is huge! It could easily feed 5 people. That's 10 hours of working on the treadmill after eating that.

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