As parents, we're constantly begging our children to be more hands on. We get all exultant over the Zeum or the Exploratorium because they're hands on museums. We peer over our iPhone screens to yell at the kids to turn off the tv and pick up a book. We laud ourselves as breeders of honed athletes when our 10-year-old's hoops shot even hits the rim, or our 8-year-old doesn't spear herself with a lacrosse stick. But when it comes to food, "Hands off" is the regular mantra at our kitchen table. "Put that sausage down now!" and "Have you ever heard of a fork?" are phrases commonly mixed into our dinner conversation. Maybe that's why Assab Eritrean Cuisine has become our girls' most requested restaurant as of late. Hands off simply isn't an option.
At Assab, a hubcap-sized platter chock full of vegetables and/or meats atop a layer of injera, a spongy bread with a mild sour buzz, is plunked down on the table. After that, you and your kids have at it like a pack of wild hyenas picking apart a wildebeest (yes, I've been forced to watch The Lion King 10 too many times). No utensils, just hands and injera to scoop up your feast. It gets all primal and ugly really fast but in a good way.
We typically order two combinations, the vegetable and the meat. The veggies include a blend of potatoes, carrots, and bell peppers as well as zucchini and okra, both stewed in a sauce our girls think tastes like marinara. Meats include cubed beef, lamb, and a chicken drumstick, all simmered in clarified butter. Our older daughter doesn't love spicy food but she does totally fine here, deeming only the potatoes to be a little hot. A few extra orders of injera are a must, not just because it's fun for all ages to see whether it sticks to your forehead (it does), but also because you'll want to sop up every last shred on the platter. The novelty of eating with your hands would wear thin pretty quickly if the food itself weren't delicious. That's not a problem at Assab.
This is also a great place to educate your little ones about Eritrean culture. Okay, who are we kidding? Chances are you know nothing about Eritrea. Assab is wall-to-wall artifacts, including plenty of art, traditional Eritrean tea cups, and hanging drums. Luckily, there's a large map to teach us that: 1) Eritrea is in the northern part of Africa, across the Red Sea from Saudi Arabia, and 2) Eritrea and Ethiopia? Different countries.
Arrive before 6:30, and parking and getting a table should be a breeze. Between the luxury of taking a night off from worrying about your offspring's lacking cutlery skills, the adrenaline rush of battling said offspring for your supper, and the satisfaction that you've helped your brood (and yourself) to become a little more worldly, Assab is a worthy choice for your next family night out.
Assab Eritrean Cuisine: 2845 Geary (at Wood), 441-7083.