Comfort food from afar

Staff Writer
Columbus Monthly
Lamb mandi

Yemeni Restaurant highlights a cuisine rarely found in the Midwest.

Though Yemeni cuisine exhibits a clear relationship to Somali food traditions, Yemeni restaurants are much rarer in this part of the U.S. Even so, Yemeni is widely thought of as a distinct and desirable cuisine throughout the Middle East and its diaspora.

Luckily for us, Yemeni Restaurant (with its on-the-nose name) opened this spring in Minerva Park.

A connection to Somali cuisine becomes clear when a dish like Yemeni's lamb mandi ($13.99) arrives at the table. Atop a bed of saffron-stained basmati rice lies a generous portion of bone-in lamb shank flanked by caramelized onions, sultanas, a dollop of potato stew, and-in a specific nod to the restaurant's Somali clientele-spaghetti. It is a beguiling combination, made exceptional by the smoky grilled flavor that traditional tandoor cooking imparts upon the meat.

The mandi typifies one major category of Yemeni entree-the meat and rice platter-with the other being stews. Among them, the foul ($7.95) and the fahsa ($9.95) stews are standouts.

Throughout the Middle East, foul is commonly prepared with cooked fava beans dressed in oil and topped with herbs and vegetables. The Yemeni version, however, resembles a rich and thick fava bean chili with a pleasing texture and hint of spicy heat.

If the foul is a pleasant riff on the familiar, the fahsa is uncharted territory. Fahsa is a terra cotta-hued goat stew, thick and cooked to the point where it could almost be characterized as porridge. Baskets of flatbread accompany the stews, and dipping is encouraged. The first taste is giddily disorienting. While the form of the dish takes you far, far away, the meaty, comfort-foody flavor is immediately at home right here in the Midwest.

Beverages range from soft drinks to a clove-forward Adeni milk tea ($1.50) and a pleasantly frothy avocado juice ($4.99). Yemeni Restaurant's environs are spotless and austere-all subdued neutrals and wood tones-and it makes for a distinct contrast to the bright friendliness of the service.

Yemeni Restaurant

5426 Cleveland Ave, Northeast Side