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February 5, 2010 at 12:02 AM

My heart belongs to Greater Seattle’s ethnic restaurants

It’s February, so you know what that means: they (and you know who they are) want me to think “romance in the air.” So for this month’s restaurant roundup, I followed the perfume of berbere, rose water and saffron, cardamom, fenugreek and mint, garlic, ginger and galangal. I ate with my hands, with a swath of bread and with a lust for life lived elsewhere — if only for an evening. Here’s where I landed.

It had been some time since I’ve traveled to Kabul, where I had a chance to practice my fractured Farsi and find myself seduced by the cuisine of Afghanistan. Now I can’t wait to go back for more, especially since chef, owner and all-around nice guy Wali Kairzada just reintroduced live music (Tuesdays and Thursdays) at his intimate Wallingford bistro.

Nancy had a little lamb at Kabul, with raisin-sweetened rice and badenjan borani (that’s the yogurt-sauced eggplant, right).

Habesha, in the Denny Triangle, is a sexy, centrally located hipster haunt for Ethiopians and those of us who appreciate their fragrant finger foods. Share chicken wot, sega tibs (berbere-spiked beef) and vegetarian combos like the one in the photo below.

A rainbow of flavors and titillating textures on a “platter” of edible injera at Habesha.

[Greg Gilbert/The Seattle Times]

Little Saigon’s Tamarind Tree has a menu so long and varied you won’t know where to begin. May I suggest the bon bon salad and the turmeric coconut rice cakes (as I’ve certainly done before), or perhaps this tamarind-lacquered quail?

Quail: plenty for two, and bad to the bone. And by bad I mean good.

Bai Pai, in Ravenna, has you covered with Thai standards like phad Thai, tom kha gai and lemongrass chicken, but the real standouts are creative dishes you won’t find elsewhere, like these plump prawns doing the scampified backstroke in an electric avocado-laced green curry:

I thought the Massaman curry-sauced lamb was my gotta-have-it dish at Bai Pai. Then I tried this scampi.

My belly danced after a Moroccan-themed meal at the Kasbah, where Hassan Sbai and his wife (and cook) Majida Sbai have pitched their tent in Ballard to prepare a five-course “feast” for all who enter. Don’t stand on ceremony! Drink your sweet tea.

A cozy corner at the Kasbah, where tea for two comes from on high.

Spice Route takes the road less traveled by offering the foods of North and South India, a brilliant mix of meat and vegetarian specialties. You’ll find it next to Chuck E. Cheese in Bellevue, where you’ll also find the dish that blew me away: Gobi Manchurian (imagine a cross between General Tso’s chicken and Judy Fu’s Crispy Eggplant, hold the chicken and the eggplant, add cauliflower).

Forget the roses, sweet pea. This cauliflower is the only flower I need.

So, tell me: which local ethnic haunts woo you?

Comments | More in | Topics: Nancy's Restaurant Roundups

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