Café Noir is an Ethiopian-owned place whose mode and theme is the international spirit. New and old trade routes, the movements of peoples from one continent to another, the implosion (rather than collision) of different worlds into new forms, images, colors, foods--this is the stuff of Café Noir. Downtown restaurant Afrikando is charged by a similar spirit, with its mix of French, Arabic, and African foods. Indeed, this is the modernity most Africans long for, except it finds its rare moments in places like Belltown, or in this small café on the banks of Aurora Avenue.

Café Noir's interiors express the international spirit. It's a mix of olive greens and mustard yellows, colors inspired by the shimmering cities in the southeast of Ethiopia, with architecture that combines African and Turkish designs. Noir, which opened just under a year ago and is owned by Joitom Negash and Dawit Belay, features Italian food. It offers gelato (Italian ice cream) and, best of all, healthy (in the country sense of the term) panini sandwiches, which range from chicken pesto and smoked salmon to olive feta, eggplant, and various Italian salamis. The sandwiches cost between $6.50 and $7.50, and each comes with a small and simple salad. The coffee is also Italian (supplied by Vivace), but Belay serves it because of its propinquity to Ethiopian coffee.

On the Saturday afternoon I spent here, most of the tables were occupied by groups of Ethiopian men discussing, one suspects, politics. (As an African, I can attest to the fact that African men habitually talk about politics when they gather in cafés or bars.) As I lingered, a kind of Ethiopian jazz played in the background, and outside the broad windows, traffic roared by on Aurora. If there is any hope for the dismal situation in Africa, then it must spring from such tiny places as Café Noir.

Café Noir

10309 Aurora Ave N, 524 6889. Open Mon-Fri 7 am-10 pm, Sat-Sun 7 am-11 pm.