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[whitespace] Gojo
Christopher Gardner

Breaking Bread: Mahilate Worku of Gojo unveils a platter of injera (soft Ethiopian bread) laden with various entrees.

Gojo's Ethiopian finger food satisfies all ten digits and each of the five senses

By Andrew X. Pham

OUR SECOND VISIT to Gojo comes on a hot afternoon. We struggle through a snarl of San Carlos Street traffic near the Midtown Safeway to find the eatery, which sits next to an African specialty shop. With the sunlight blistering the pavement and the gooey asphalt, Gojo is a welcome find.

We step inside and feel the temperature drop a welcoming 15 degrees, although the noon light bursting through the streetfront windows keeps us squinting. A heady aroma of pan-roasted coffee opens our eyes to a smoky dining room, quaintly assembled. Swooping cotton sheets drape the ceiling; a few posters punctuate the walls. The small, gray-toned establishment seats at most 30. This afternoon sees us and a group of Ethiopian businessmen who beckon for a full Ethiopian coffee ceremony.

While the waitress and cook tend to an elaborate array of shiny trays, pots and cups, we peruse the menu's dozen items, sectioned into four parts: chicken, beef, lamb and vegetarian. Gojo is as simple as our cheerful hostess describes it: "We have no appetizers, no desserts. Just Ethiopian food and Ethiopian coffee."

What she doesn't mention is that $7 will fetch a lunch or dinner big enough for any appetite. Entrees ranges from $6.50 to $8.50, but a group of five or six can get away with a $30 party platter of five main entrées and five side orders and a mountain of Ethiopian bread.

All food ordered is delivered to the table on a communal platter layered with a spongy palette of injera, a soft, fermented flatbread made from millet. The cook pillows all the entrees on top, covering the entire tray with steaming food. Unlike other restaurants, Gojo, with its small staff, serves the sides of injera slightly chilled.

Ethiopian dining is extraordinarily intimate. Fingers are the delicate utensils of choice. Meals traditionally begin with the host pinching a morsel of food with a piece of injera and feeding it to the guest. This gesture of hospitality is often exchanged throughout the meal by everyone present.

An Ethiopian meal is a collage of flavors, textures and colors, fusing main ingredients such as lentils, chickpeas, or meat with onion, garlic, cayenne pepper, paprika, black pepper, sweet butter, cloves, cinnamon and allspice. Gojo spices its food with berbere, a red-chile paste, more liberally than any other Ethiopian restaurant in the South Bay. Consequently, the food here is very robust and a suitable companion for a few glasses of Ethiopian tej, honey wine.

The kitchen simmers an excellent doro wet, a thick chicken stew rich with butter and garlic. Dark, herb-sodden meat shreds off the drumsticks as easily as dandelion confetti, so pliant that one can probably strip the drumstick to the bone with a single bite.

After doro wet, it's a tossup between kitfo ($6.50), spiced beef with homemade cottage cheese, and yebeg tibbs ($7.50), diced lamb sautéed with onion, garlic and herb butter.

One of the best combinations for two diners is a vegetarian platter (No. 10, $6.50) paired with a combination platter (No. 9, $7.50).

The Ethiopian coffee ceremony is wonderful ($12 for a party of six). With its time-intensive preparation, the ceremony must be ordered along with the meal. The pan-roasted beans are brought to the table for participants to take in the full aromas. The beans, hand-ground and slow-steeped in an Ethiopian urn, produce a wine-dark, coarsely filtered coffee that is as rich as espresso. Ethiopian coffee by the demitasse sans ceremony is 75 cents. Beer are $2 and wines are $1.50.

At Gojo's prices, we doubt Ethiopian food will remain "exotic" for long. Yet due to the restaurant's very limited seating, we recommend that patrons strategically plan their visits.

Cuisine: Ethiopian
Ambiance: homey diner
Menu: $6.50-$8.50
Hours: Tue.-Thu. 11am-10pm, Fri.-Sun. 11am-11pm, closed Mon.
Address: 1261 W. San Carlos St., San Jose
Phone: 408/295-9546

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From the July 23-29, 1998 issue of Metro.

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