Saturday, January 9, 2016


Take the exploration part of M.E.C.'s name as in indication that you're in for a journey: you might wait before and during, but after the fact you should find it well worth that you did.  Walk-ins are preferred, although they do accept a limited number of reservations by phone.  And the dining room is capacious, so it will hold a lot of hungry people.  And it does, and they come.  In fact, I'm not quite sure the kitchen and staff are quite equipped for feeding as many as it does- this was pretty much this Company's only caveat.

Putting a bird on it, Portland-style
We were supplied menus an drinks swiftly enough, but after that everything came to a screeching halt.  Actually, waiting for our first dish was not so arduous as the lapses between courses.  And when I say courses, I mean dishes, because everything pretty much came out singularly, and with ample time padding the arrival of the next.  

I had actually told John (Gorham, the exec here) that I was coming, and his response was "Get the mackerel."  Now normally that would be AFTER the last thing I would consider ordering for myself, like... ever.  But with a such a trustworthy, unsolicited endorsement, I buckled.  And I was astounded .  It was the meatiest, unfishiest mackerel I could ever even imagine to imagine.  A mackerel-hater-converting mackerel.  Put with a verdant blob of creamy dill and sharp pickles to brighten its smoky richness, all the was needed were the delicate, salty seasoned caraway crackers (addictive in and of themselves) to scoop up bite after bite.

In an order I would not have surmised, next arrived the grilled octopus, even though I was sort of imagining it as an entree .... it came from the Grill section of the menu underneath Piato (mains), and priced as $16 was worthy of such.  An enormous tentacle.... okay, I guess considering the potential enormity of an octopus, it wasn't going to win a State Fair blue ribbon, but for the species that end up on your plate, it was respectively hefty.  Coming from Grill, I had hoped for a bit more char, but it had great texture, not unlike a tender poached chicken thigh, delicate of flavor and drizzled with a peppery oil spreckled with fresh dill.

Third arrived... nothing.  At least not for a long enough time to notice that even sipping on the lovely Teutonic white (kept iced in a silver bucket on our table) could make the absence of subsequent food unremarkable.  Many tables, in fact, seemed to be happily chatting, sipping and/ or laughing rather than eating.  The kitchen just might be too small for the space.  That said, it finally sent out more of our order: the much-lauded Phyllo Chard hand pie.  The flaky pastry was barely substantial enough to hold the generous mass of verdant greens within, which were underseasoned and unwieldy in the fragile phyllo.    A big dollop of tzaziki helped amp up the flavor, but diminished it the practicality of eating it out of hand.

Another notable wait terminated with the arrival of a lovely beet salad anchored in skordalia.  Studded with pistachios and a flurry of arugula, a zestiness shone through the beets inherent sweetness, again finished with an ample drizzle of olive oil.  Most dishes are finished in this way, sometimes superfluously.  Gorham seems to default too often to the evoo drizzle, whereas most of his food is flavorful enough not to need it, and certainly caloric enough require additional impact on that front. 

Speaking of which, we chatted and sipped the rest of our wine, finishing the bottle before our final two plates arrived.  Fried chicken with aleppo pepper-spiked honey was a masterpiece of the genre.  The aforementioned blue ribbons that the tentacle may not have merited for size certainly would justifiably be bequeathed to this bird.  It coat is craggy and crunchy, insulation for the immaculately juicy meat within, and its rugged texture dedicated to capturing the spicy-sweet glaze.   Some cool chunks of pickled beet set alongside countered the heat (both temperature and spice), if they looked a little
 indecorous on the plate.   Our roasted carrots came simultaneously- finally, two dishes on the table at once.   Slathered in a messy slurry of tarragon-inflected yogurt to balance the harissa's bite, the roots were a little tough and oily.  A nicer version would've softened them longer on the stove and held off with the extraneous oil drizzle.  The seasoning was superb, though, with the natural carrot sweetness, tangy yogurt freshness and harissa's peppery heat achieved that vaunted trifecta. 

Grilled broccolini with fried berbere-spiced chickpeas was one of the dishes I was most anticipating.... but unfortunately, it wasn't just delayed to arrive as were the rest of the dishes; it never arrived at all.  Apparently having been lost in the shuffle (what was that about understaffing?), we were 80% finished with that final fried chicken, so an order of broccoli after-the-fact seemed untimely at best.  The g.m. was hugely apologetic and offered us dessert on the house... but then that showed up on the bill.  We weren't charged for the broccolini, though, and in the end, that brown butter cake with its spiced apple compote soothed most of my disappointment.  I guess it's like  any excursion nowadays: there can are inconveniences, disappointments, delays and regrets, but it's all in the name of exploration.  As long as you remember your trip fondly, would jump at the chance to go back, and would recommend a visit to any you could, I would consider the trip a success.  So it goes at Mediterranean Exploration Company: you might experience of couple of blips along the path, but the journey was still so great.

333 NW 13th Ave
tel  (503)222-0906

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