Theas is the newest edition to the continuously blossoming dining scene in East Aurora. From bar favorites to a brick oven, decedent desserts and coffee houses, EA has a lot going for it – and now this. Who would have thought the next step for Medici House owners John Rooney & Laurie Kutas was turning half the place Ethiopian? Not us. Yet here we are. Anything’s possible right? If you know what you’re doing when you build it, they will come.
This new side to Medici may have been a surprise to us, but it was a dream of John and Laurie’s even before Tantalus opened. While traveling, they fell in love with Ethiopian cuisine in Washington DC 12 years ago, enjoying the experience, flavors, spices and heat. “It was during this period that we were planning Tantalus, our first restaurant. We often joked that if we had our druthers we’d open an Ethiopian place in Buffalo! At the time there was no Ethiopian footprint in the area,” John said. They may not be the only Ethiopian in Western New York now, but this is still a vastly different experience for East Aurorians.
After immersing themselves in eating Ethiopian, they decided to have a go at cooking the cuisine they’d come to love. “We began to experiment at home, were coached by friends in the business in Toronto, and soon we were turning out tibs and wot for the family. We’ve been cooking Ethiopian ever since,” said John. After 12 years of business with the beloved Tantalus and now Medici House, the family decided to take on their dream with Theas.
Wondering how the Medici House/Theas split pans out? Here’s how it works. Medici House remains on the corner while Theas is sandwiched between that and Taste next door. “We transformed our banquet room into Theas Restaurant. Medici House is able to hold banquets and small parties in its main dining room by sectioning off areas for privacy so with space available it was an easy choice to make. The bar remains Medici Bar and serves both restaurants,” says John. Note: the bar is actually on Theas side. “Both menus are offered at the bar which is a merging point for both restaurants. It’s proven to be quite popular and it’s fun to see a meat sampler platter from Theas next to an insider burger from Medici at the bar. It should be noted that the restaurants are separate and the bar is the only area where both menus are offered.”
Eating at Theas was only our second experience with Ethiopian cuisine. We thoroughly enjoyed it at Gatur’s on Allen last year, and this round again proved to be a unique and enjoyable experience. If you’ve never tried it before, it’s best to ponder at least a quick explanation. “The food is offered by single entree or in a sampler platter format. The samplers are really the way to go as you are able to get portions of many dishes all on a 16″ platter. Meats include chicken, beef tenderloin, lamb, and shrimp. Non-meat dishes include yellow and red lentils, green beans, beets, and potatoes. Injera (Ethiopian bread), a crepe like bread with a sourdough profile is used to scoop morsels to mouth and is served with every dish,” says John as he explained the traditional experience offered at Theas. You won’t find any forks on the table, but servers are happy to bring you one at your request. They’re really not all that necessary thanks to the injera. It’s not as messy as it sounds. They plan to offer black rice bowls within the next week which will broaden both vegetarian and non-vegetarian offerings. “Theas is a place where carnivores may mingle with vegetarians at the same table and both will be satisfied!” says John.
As we sat down in the “other half” of Medici House, we were surrounded by African masks and other artifacts collected over the years by John and his family for this exact purpose. The space lends itself well to the decor and atmosphere. Besides the wall art and the open banquet room, not much about the space has changed from it’s Medici days. Our server was very good, but most importantly, he was knowledgeable and passionate about the menu. He seemed compelled to educate us on the ins and outs of the Ethiopian culture which was much appreciated. Not to mention his patience as we rattled off multiple sample platters with a variety of combinations, no doubt changing our minds a few times and asking more than enough questions. Differences in the menu items have a lot to do with heat and preparation. Most are offered mild or spicy, and our server made it known that if you’d like more heat, just ask! The menu is primarily in English, with the Ethiopian names in red. You’ll need to know that anything with “wot” in the name refers to a stew, while “tibs” is a combination of sautéed meat and vegetables. If you notice the name Berbere, powdered chili pepper and other spices, expect the dish to be on the spicier side.
We were with a large group so we shared a few sample platters and added an appetizer and single entree for good measure. We had a little bit left over but for the most part, we ordered well for size. We tried the Stuffed Jalapeño Peppers – fresh green peppers stuffed with tomatillo, onions, spices and seasonings, accented with traditional Ethiopian style homemade cottage cheese, $4. Due to their freshness, they were pretty spicy. Make sure you have water handy! They were good if you are able to handle the heat. Our three shared tasting platters covered a good portion of the menu. Choose from 3 beef or chicken entrees and 3 vegetarian entrees for $38, substitute lamb for $6 or shrimp for $8. We tried:
- Lamb Shank – A succulent lamb shank slow cooked in a mild and distinctly flavorful blend of turmeric, garlic and onions.
- Spicy Shrimp – Large fresh shrimp sautéed in spiced butter with red and green pepper, mushroom and tomatoes, finished with garlic and spices.
- Spicy Beef Stew (Key Wot) – Tips cooked in garlic, onions and spices.
- Mild Beef Stew – Green peppers, garlic and onion, seasoned with turmeric and spices.
- Theas Mild Beef Tenderloin (Tibs) – Green peppers, garlic and onion with turmeric and spices.
- Mild Chicken Breast (Doro Tibs) – Boneless chicken breast, green peppers, garlic and onion, seasoned with turmeric and spices.
- Spicy Chicken Stew (Doro Wot) – Chicken Thighs and drumsticks slow cooked in garlic, onions and a blend of spices.
- Yellow Lentils – Prepared in a mild and distinctly flavorful blend of turmeric, garlic and onions.
- Red Lentils – Simmered in a garlic, onions and red pepper spices.
- Collard Greens with caramelized onions and a blend of spices.
- Sautéed Green beans – Pan fried seasoned green beans, carrots and caramelized onions.
- Potatoes and Onions – Spiced and seasoned potatoes and caramelized onions.
- Boiled Beets and lemon
- A small amount of cottage cheese came in the center of each plate along with a super spicy sauce to try if thats how you like it.
We ordered a tasting plate per 2 people. I’d bet a third could join in if you aren’t overly hungry. Plus we tried the They also offer vegetarian only tasting platters with a choice of any 6 vegetarian entrees for $28. Plus, if you’d like to sample solo, there are single tasting platters available with some specific meat & vegetable entrees (lunch – $9.50, dinner – $14.50) or just vegetarian (lunch – $7.50, dinner – $11.50).
Our favorite was the Key Wot or Spicy Beef Stew. It was extremely tender, flavorful and not exceptionally spicy. Some others that stood out were the shrimp, the yellow and red lentils, sautéed green beans, and the beef tenderloin. The injera, which always fascinates me, was excellent. On one of the sample platters we opted for a gluten free version of injera, for which our server had an explanation of differing ingredients, none of which I remember. If you’re interested, be sure to ask. I personally am not gluten free and oh so thankful because I felt the gluten-filled injera was much tastier. Others at the table tasted little difference. Either way – good to know it’s available for those that need it. The cottage cheese in the center of each plate was also a pleasant surprise. Beware of the super spicy sauce next to it!
The experience of trying something new and different like Ethiopian cuisine is an exciting one. Several elements of the meal are unique to the culture. “One of the most important points to make concerning Theas Restaurant is the food is extremely fresh and brite! The dishes are a visual as well as a taste sensation. It is a unique and fun experience that satisfies the soul as well as ones hunger,” said John. How can you resist a satisfied soul?
Beer Pairing Dinners at Medici House & Theas
John: “Beer dinners are offered monthly. The last 2 have been built around Ethiopian fare. For upcoming beer events please check Medici House Facebook for up to date information. These events are very casual in nature. They offer 4 courses of food and include 4 / 11 oz glasses of featured beer. Brewery representatives are on hand to provide brewery background and insight. Medici Bar beer dinners are extremely popular and are often sold out. We max out at 60 people for beer dinners.”
Call the restaurant for Beer Dinner reservations, $30/person
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