John Gorham and Kasey Mill are set to open Mediterranean Exploration Company in Portland's Pearl District. A full house of diners enjoyed a preview with Portland Food Adventures on July 9, 2014. The restaurant has its soft opening July 16-31, Wednesdays through Sundays from 5:30 - 10 pm.
MEC explores the flavors of the eastern Mediterranean - Israel, Greece, Lebanon, Turkey and North Africa. In keeping with those traditions, it's a pork-free menu (rare for Portland!) You won't find Gorham's bacon-wrapped dates here. Every dish has a playful spin and an amazing play of flavors.
We started with a Moroccan Mint Spritz cocktail prepared by former Tasty N Alder bartender Jamal Hassan. It was a great refreshing drink on a warm summer evening. Tomato fritter appetizers were surprisingly light.
The restaurant is at 333 NW 13th Avenue. Gorham took the former Riffle NW and 50 Plates space down to concrete walls and created a minimalist space. The table tops are made from a local Cedar of Lebanon tree that was scheduled for removal. The bar seats 18, with another 18 seats in an open kitchen area and 60 seats in the main dining area.
The space is open and with music playing and a full house, it's a noisy party atmosphere. The roll-up doors let in the evening breeze. For those who like soft seating - bring your own cushion, the benches and chairs are unpadded. While there are a few larger tables, there are many 2-top and 4-top tables. MEC will be taking reservations for some of its seating, it won't be a complete free-for-all as dining is at Toro Bravo and Tasty N Sons.
The food will make it worth the trip. It was hard to pick a favorite from the dishes we sampled in the 12-course preview. The dishes are meant for sharing family style, and you'll want to bring friends and roam through as many as you can.
Let's talk bread. The fresh pita and other breads are being rolled out in the open kitchen and fired in a stone oven. You will want them. They arrive hot, light, and a perfect vessel and swipe-up for the housemade hummus, tahini and astounding sauces on the other dishes.
The shalosh of roasted eggplant, tomato, pumpkin and carrot with olive oil demanded to be eaten with the pita. So did hte house made lebneh with delicious fried cauliflower. I wanted a large plate of that.
The radicchio with cherries, parsley and yogurt dressing is a don't miss dish. It was hands-down the best radicchio salad any at our table had ever had. It was perfectly dressed and the slight sweetness was wonderful.
The fried calamari with spicy tomato sauce offered another plate that demanded bread to sop up the delicious sauce.
Chreime arrived listed as "tripolitany jewish fish stew." It was a wonderful filet with another fantastic sauce. The flavors of each dish were completely different, each with a depth and complexity that was delightful.
The anchovy fan at our table loved the fried anchovies with skordalia and lemon. Those of us who don't like anchovies found them acceptably edible.
The Greek potatoes should be on your list no matter what else you order. They were perfectly fried wedges graced with a great blend of spices.
I will be lusting for a full plate of the lamb ragu with hummus and tahini. The taste I had made me close my eyes to savor the intricate spicing.
But you also can't miss the Greek lamb chops with oregano, garlic and lemon. They are perfectly grilled and spiced. We were happy when Renee Gorham came by with second helpings.
I enjoyed the rose water panna cotta with pisachio and caramel. It was a creamy ending to a perfect dinner.
Go, Enjoy. Bring friends so you can explore as much as possible at Mediterranean Exploration Company.
For a fun interview with John and Renee Gorham on the development of MEC and their other restaurants, give a listen at Right at the Fork.