Monday, October 08, 2012

Ethiopia: Dining Out: Addis Rodeo

New arrivals to the Embassy are given a community guide, and part of the guide is a list of recommended restaurants.  Always up for a good steak, the entry for Addis Rodeo caught my eye.  "Good American-style steakhouse," was the promising description.

I decided that I would give Rodeo a try, and a few days before I was planning to go, quite by chance the eatery came up in a conversation.

"My family loves Rodeo," my colleague Buck gushed.  "It's just like being in the States.  My son calls it a little slice of Texas in Ethiopia."

With Buck's hearty endorsement, I allowed my expectations to climb a bit.  It sounded like I was in for a treat.

After spending my Columbus Day holiday doing absolutely nothing, I headed out for dinner around 5:30.

I made my way through my neighborhood alleys and popped out on Meskel Flower Road.  Then I continued on toward Bole Road.

Near the Dreamliner Hotel, I passed an Ethiopian man leaning against a stone wall.

"How do you like the place?" he asked me as he gestured toward the hotel.

"I don't really have an opinion," I told him.  "I've never been inside."

"Oh," he responded, "I work there, and I thought you were one of our guests."

I had been to the Dreamliner's connecting restaurant, Zaika, once before, so I mentioned this and gave him an out.

"That must have been when I saw you," he remarked.

I think it's more likely that he had never seen me at all prior to our conversation.  I think he saw a foreigner walking in the vicinity of a hotel that caters to foreigners, and based on that alone, he assumed that I was staying there.

In any case, I continued walking, and this man, Getachew, walked along with me.

We covered all the usual bases about me and my time in Ethiopia, and then Getachew took the conversation to an unexpected place.

"I can see that you do a lot of training," he told me.  "What's your sport?"

Although only the briefest of moments passed before I answered, I ran through a few different responses in my mind.

I thought about giving the honest answer.  At the time, I had not set foot in a gym or done any training whatsoever for more than five months.  There was no Soloflex at work here... no PX90, no spinning, no pilates.  Nope, my "training plan" could be summed up in two words: parasites and walking.

Honesty is not always the best policy, however, and this conversation was the perfect example.  I knew for Getachew's sake that I needed to come up with an exciting alternate reality.

I looked him straight in the eye and told him about my sport.

"I'm a fencer," I told him.  "I train with the national team down in Bole."

"What?" he asked.

"Fencing," I repeated slowly.  "It's sword fighting, like in the movies."

"Really?" he replied.  "I didn't know we had a training center for that."

"Yes," I confirmed.  "It's on the backside of Friendship Mall."

Naturally Getachew was fascinated, especially when I told him that fencing tournaments were generally conducted in castles and that participants could earn bonus points by swinging on a chandelier or by doing a flip off a balcony.

No doubt about it: The sword-fighting story was way better than the truth.

All this talk of sports had consumed a bit of time, though, and Getachew and I were now very near to my cut-through to Bole Road.

I had already told him that I was headed for Rodeo, but Getachew decided to make me a counteroffer.

"Today is very lucky for you," he told me, "because there is a very big party starting right now.  Only two times a year all the people come in from the villages for this.  There will be ladies from every part of the country!  You must come!"

So twice a year, there's a huge party in Addis, and it just so happened that it was taking place on the very day I met Getachew.  And on a Monday, no less.  Indeed it was my lucky day!

Either that or Getachew was trying to play me.

Maybe there was no party at all, and he wanted to rob me.  Maybe there was a party, but it was nothing as glorious as he described.  Or maybe it was legit and off-the-chain.  Even if it was, however, I still wasn't interested.  Given the choice of enjoying a good steak or dropping into a party where there was a strong possibility I would stick out like a sore thumb, the decision was easy.

"I'm gonna go on to Rodeo," I told Getachew. "That will leave more ladies for you at the party."

Getachew made a final plea for me to join him, but I walked on and left him standing on the corner.

Twenty minutes later, I reached Rodeo. I arrived around 6:30 (still a bit early for dinner), and I had the whole restaurant to myself.  I actually wasn't sure if they were open yet, but the host graciously ushered me to a table.

The place was gussied up in cowboy style with leather and rope everywhere.  There were cowboy pictures on the walls amid a sprinkling of spurs and horseshoes.

My table was near the wall-mounted TV, so I studied the menu while I watched Al Jazeera.

Several dishes looked promising but I settled on one of their signature salads and the beef tenderloin.

When asked how I would like my steak cooked, I requested medium-rare.  Then there was one final matter to decide.

"What kind of soup would you like?" the waiter asked me.  "It's complimentary."

I didn't really want soup, but I rarely turn down a freebie.  I selected the cream of chicken soup over the other two choices: cream of mushroom and cowboy soup.

A few minutes later, my beer arrived and I continued watching TV in the empty dining room.

Before long the soup arrived, followed closely by the salad.  The soup was pretty good, and the salad, well, it was an interesting one.  The salad consisted of julienned vegetables mixed with shredded white cheese and strips of cured meat, topped with citrus dressing.  The novelty of the flavor combination wore off pretty quickly for me, but I cleaned the plate nonetheless.

The Rodeo special salad

Then it was steak time, baby!

The waiter delivered a piping hot plate with a flourish, and his delivery was perhaps the highlight of my steak experience.  The steak was well-done as opposed to medium-rare, and it was bone dry.  This was understandable, however, since the cut of meat was only a few millimeters thick.  It would be damn near impossible to retain any pink inside such a flat steak.

The steak was covered in gravy and accompanied on the plate by rice, green beans, and carrot coins.

As with the salad, I cleaned the plate, but also like the salad, I wasn't left clamoring for more.

The main course

The waiter collected my empty plate and offered me coffee and dessert.  There were several sweets available, but I decided to cut my losses and get the check.

While I was waiting to pay, I recalled the recommendation in the community guide.  Some people claim that when you live overseas for a while, you start to lower your standards for the foods and other comforts of home.  So often you can't get the real thing, you naturally start to settle.  Well, I've been overseas for more than a decade now, and I gotta say, "good American-style steakhouse" was a bit of a stretch.  This place made Denny's look like haute cuisine.

I settled my tab and hit the road, and I wasn't yet halfway home before my stomach started to reject my meal.

"This is just ducky," I thought to myself.  Maybe I should have gone to Getachew's party afterall.


The bottom line on Rodeo Addis:


    Mediocre ü


    Average ü

Overall Experience:

    Forgettable ü


Anonymous said...

Exactly what kind of "steak" was it?And how lucky for you to keep yourself in such good shape with only "fencing"

Eleanor said...

We're back home in Boston after our one--fantastic--experience overseas, but I know what you mean. Oslo just didn't have steak (OR baked potatoes, except at the CMR) like home!
As always, I enjoyed your story!!

Grecia Bate's Collected Thoughs said...

So did you go to the party? Cheers ( and God bless you for not being a PX90 psycho. Hugs -Grecia

Anonymous said...

As always happens, it is rare to find abroad a restaurant that makes food just like back home.
That is usually the case with Mexican food.