UPDATE: I've upgraded Blue Nile's rating as it's one of only a few places in Minneapolis that: a) is open late; b) has tons of space; and c) has a variety of good vegan foods and draft beers.
The restaurant area is nice enough with Ethiopian dishes (watch out for buttermilk in their berbere sauce) but the bar area is what really grabs me: low-key, large, unpretentious, casual, and generally quiet (except for when the late night DJs come, and it gets super-loud).
The draft beer selection is diverse and spans at least three continents with excellent, highly representative selections. I was especially impressed that they have Lion lager on draft, a Sri Lankan beer. There are two happy hours each day when it's two for one.
Food-wise, there are a number of great options at the bar (which offers Middle Eastern food). I thought their baba ganouje (~$6) was one of the best I've had in the Twin Cities: fresh; citrus; smoky; and served with soft, warm pita pieces. Every one of us loved it.
Their hummus (~$6) was not as good and too salty for my likes. The lentil sambusas (~$6) were good, and definitely a winner in terms of bar food, but not as good as a larger, more substantial samosa or momo at an Indian or Nepalese restaurant. The french fries ($4) are crisp and tasty.
Lastly, the falafel sandwich ($5.75) is just slightly above average and generally hits the spot, though is a bit messily-constructed and could use some tahini (the sauce they normally use is made with yogurt, so make sure they leave it off).
My only gripe is that the wait time for your food to arrive is generally long (15-20 minutes) even if it's not busy. In the end, though, Blue Nile is a winner and a great all-purpose late night spot for beer lovers and vegans alike.
December 2008 review: I found myself craving Ethiopian food and so I ended up at the ominous, mysterious Blue Nile restaurant. I'm not sure why all the Ethiopian places in Minneapolis are also live music-lounge joints, but Blue Nile does a good job of demarcating the dining area and the bar/lounge area.
I was one of only a couple of customers and was seated promptly. The ambience is passable (maybe a bit too bright to be romantic) though the dining area shows signs of decay.
My server was knowledgeable about ingredients and told me which dishes were vegan; of the ten or so on the menu, six or seven of them are vegan. Their dishes with berbere sauce are NOT VEGAN, as the sauce is made with buttermilk.
My food took 15 or 20 minutes to arrive which was long considering there were only a few customers. Even though I had specified no yogurt and no berbere sauce, my dish was served with a dollop of both. Fortunately, they were on the side and I could just eat around them.
My dark lentils with garlic/jalepeno main course was decent but didn't blow me away. Each of the veg. dishes comes with another side dish of your choosing, so I picked a fava bean dish that also was decent, but nothing special. It tasted and looked like refried beans. I did, however, like their injera bread which was soft and fluffy, but not too thick.
If you're looking to make your dish spicier, ask for the vegan "hot sauce" which will end up being a plate of freshly minced jalapeno. It certainly adds a kick and mixes well with any dish.
It took a while to finally pay the bill. The service was friendly but could have been faster. Prices were decent in the $9-12 range.