As soon as you walk into Langano Skies, you can almost feel the warmth radiating from its strikingly beautiful décor. Glorious red-mud walls bask in the painted dawn of its eastern wall; traditional woven dining platters sing from each table; leatherwork hangings whisper serenely from all four directions while the ceiling mural announces sapphire skies and goose-down clouds.
In some ways, it’s no surprise that the owners of Langano Skies have put so much effort into the appearance of their gustatory palace—the only other Ethiopian restaurant the south side ever saw was the legendary, long-gone, original Blue Nile (not to be confused the excellent new Blue Nile located north of the Brick). While expensive, the original Blue Nile introduced the exotic delicacies of Ethiopian cuisine to Edmonton, and it’s the standard by which all others are judged. It’s where I learned to eat Ethiopian food—scooping up meats and vegetables with torn-off strips of injera, the white, pancakey flatbread that is both the literal and figurative basis of Ethiopian dining. Everyone eats from the same plate, and this intimacy induces as much joy and warmth as the food itself (except in the weird guy I saw pile his food into an injera and eat it as a wrap).
I’m glad to say that Langano meets the challenge of the Blue Nile’s ghost with honour. Over the course of my meals (two dinners and a lunch), I sampled widely from Langano’s fare. Unfortunately for everyone, Langano no longer offers its combination platters at dinnertime, citing the length of preparation time. That’s dreadful, not only because combo plates are a staple of Ethiopian restaurants, but also because they’re great value and offer the best possible introduction for newbies. Langano’s lunch menu still offers three combinations—two for omnivores and one for vegetarians. If you come for lunch, you won’t be fighting for tables—the restaurant was empty the day I went, except for my partner and me.
We began with sambusas ($2.25), which are essentially east African samosas. (One thing to understand about Ethiopian food is that one-line descriptions make it sound like South Asian food, but in fact they’re nothing alike.) Sambusas aren’t crisp; rather, they’re quite oily, and they tend to crumble under their own weight. Ours were tasty bites of ground beef and veggie filled with a subtle curry of potato, carrot, peas and corn. We also ordered the kategna ($5)—a folded-over injera slathered with a mixture of garlic, ginger, butter and jalapeño—which, while spicy, was disappointingly flavourless.
Far more satisfying were our main courses. Inside the traditional, colourful woven platters (ringing in at around $10 each), a metal dish supports a giant injera piled with rolled-up injera and stewed meats and vegetables, all with a presentation that made it seem like a painter’s palette of tastes and colours. In green is the gomen wat, spinach, onions, fresh garlic, and hot green peppers, but all you’ll see is the spinach. It’s served with a bright crumble of lyeb, homemade Ethiopian cottage cheese. The texture is excellent, never soggy like what you buy in the grocery store, and when combined with the spinach and the injera, it’s magnificent. Indeed, I learned at Langano that combining the sectioned delights into one scoop provides the greatest joy. Meanwhile, the red of the palette is yemisir kik aletcha wot, split red lentils, onions and garlic sautéed with curry—it’s a bitey delight, hot and chewy and a perfect complement to the spinach. The yellow lentils, ater kik aletcha wot, have a lighter texture and a milder flavour; and just to switch things up, dive into the orange-green atekilt aletchat wot, the curry-fried sliced carrots, potatoes and cabbage.
I enjoyed the lamb curry more as a leftover than as a meal-in-time, probably mostly because the name made me expect something like tibs, or cubed, hot beef. Instead it’s a large knot of bitter-curry stewed lamb served with crumbled injera. But I wasn’t too disappointed, because Langano Skies also serves the finest doro wot—stewed chicken—I’ve ever had. Intense, tomatoey, hot, meat-rending glory, and it’s all breast meat, whereas drumstick is the only way I’ve had it anywhere before, from Vancouver to Washington D.C. It’s an absolute standout.
After our main course, we tried the cheesecake ($5.50), which, while clearly not a traditional Ethiopian dish, wasn’t exactly a traditional cheesecake either. It’s got a crumble topping and base, layered with cherries, and it’s exquisite, probably the most interesting cheesecake I’ve had in years, and enough to satisfy two. We ended our meal with a large pot of spiced Ethiopian tea ($2.50), its cloves and intensity the perfect exclamation point to our experience.
Langano Skies is a tad pricier than most Ethiopian restaurants, but its excellent location on the corner of 99 Street and Whyte, combined with its beautiful artwork and inspired food, should make it a star on the walk. Our big meal of three appetizers, two platters, a lamb dish, dessert and tea came to only $45, and we had enough for leftovers. I’ve already been three times already, and I’m definitely going back. V
9920 Whyte Ave • 432-3334