For all the chain restaurants that pop up around Lehigh Valley, it's truly refreshing to experience something ambitious and completely different. Alando Kenyan Cuisine, located in the back third of Wired Cafe on Main Street in downtown Bethlehem, is such a place. (For the record, this might be the only coffee house-Kenyan combo in the world.)
I've never tried Kenyan food, but I have enjoyed Ethiopian and Senegalese cuisine before. Kenyan is more akin to Ethiopian with its heartiness and use of exotic spices. In fact, I found it even similar to Indian food, though without the heat.
We started with a lentil samosa. Bits of scallions and cilantro were tucked in the golden-brown pastry. Alando's pili pili sauce - an addicting sweet/hot concoction - was an ideal complement. Kenyan bhajia (light, airy, fried potato slices in a tumeric-cilantro batter) was equally delicious as an app.
Green-gram grains (mung beans sautéed in vegetable Masala spice, garlic, tomatoes, coconut milk and light cream) had a wonderful balance of flavor.
Not to be overlooked, beef short ribs were hearty and fork-tender. Topped with caramelized onions, tomatoes and cilantro, they arrived in a shallow pool of flavorful stew-like braising sauce.
Cardamom chicken (marinated chicken with herbs, sautéed with cardamom pods, ginger, garlic, light cream and cilantro) was my favorite. It burst with aromatic cardamom, but without overwhelming the dish. The ginger and garlic melded well with the other spices and herbs. The boneless chicken breast was meaty and moist. I could eat this once a week.
Do not skip dessert! The homemade sweet potato pie was similar to pumpkin pie with nutmeg, cinnamon and a touch of cardamom, but with a bit less fruitiness. The homemade ginger ice cream was perfect. Studded with real pieces of ginger, it complemented the texture of the pie and provided more moistness without overpowering it.
Our service was decent. It took a while upon being seated to get water and menus, but after that it was pleasant and frequent.
Others I have spoken with have had equally excellent experiences at Alando. Let me know if you do, too.
This post was written by Lehigh Valley InSite guest blogger Michael Drabenstott, who also writes Beyond Scrapple: A Guide to Lehigh Valley Ethnic Restaurants.