When you walk into Dama’s dining room, take note of the television in the corner. Go hungry, but expect to wait as the order to table timing varies and it is never quick. The television is a nice, if not a necessary distraction while you wait for your food. The Ethiopian programming is also part of the experience.
Perhaps once intended to be a more formal atmosphere, the décor is now retro. Dama has settled to become a welcoming environment with a slightly otherworld feel. The clientele has become increasingly diverse since I started going there years ago, but in taking note of other diners, Dama maintains a solid customer base of Ethiopians.
Plastic protects the fabric tablecloths and keeps the large communal tray of food in place. The food is always good, and sometimes stellar. What emerges from the kitchen, which you can see from certain tables, is a reliable amalgamation of comfortably spiced and flavorful vegetables, meats and lentils. It’s home style Ethiopian cooking, with a collective, family style approach as diners share dishes off a large tray in the middle of the tables.
In lieu of utensils, you tear off a piece of spongy injera bread to take your food. The bread takes a little getting used to, but you soon come to appreciate that it allows you to mix dishes. The injera upon which the meal sits absorbs the flavors and makes for perfect post meal snacking as you linger after dinner.
Depending on who is dishing out the plates, you get a small sampling of Dama’s incredible lentils – red, orange and yellow, and the chickpea puree if you are lucky. Those in search of a little extra should go for the lentil sampler with the chic peas.
The vegetable dishes are why I go to Dama. Highlights include gomen wat and yetakilt wat. The gomen wat (wot), a dish of collards or other greens and spices, is second to none other. Yetakelt wat is a mix of cabbage, carrots and potatoes, a savory dish with sweeter undertones (thanks to the natural sweetness of cooked carrots and cabbage). What an incredibly delicious way to eat your recommended daily intake of veggies.
For meat, the beef tibs are tender and spiced to taste. Kitfo, a beef tartar dish that the restaurant is known for, is served completely raw or slightly warmed. I’m told that it is an acquired taste and, not having the intestinal fortitude to give it a try, I will leave it at that.
Usually too full for dessert, there are also pastries (dry), cookies (you’ll try to make room for) and really strong coffee (for the walk you’ll need to take after eating).
Dama is located at 1503 Columbia Pike, near the Navy Annex. You can walk there from Pentagon City Metro, but if you find that a bit far, find a friend with a car and offer to pay for dinner. We once fed eight people for about $65. Be advised, however, that ordering more during dinner may result in surprises on your bill. Each addition, regardless of how small, counts as an entire dish. That said, every meal has been worth every single penny.
By Guest Blogger: Wendy M.