A journey for adventurous eaters at Mediterranean Exploration Company in the Pearl.
The aroma of fragrant spices greeted us as soon as we walked into the Mediterranean Exploration Company in the Pearl, the latest outlet in the John Gorham food empire, which includes Toro Bravo, Tasty n Sons and Tasty n Alder. It has a swanky/industrial feel: think candlelight gleaming off white subway tiles. Despite the very grown-up ambience, the hostess was welcoming and happy to provide a high chair or booster for my 2-year-old.
We started with the warm Castelvetrano olives ($3), which my little olive fiend devoured. My husband and I are fans of the radicchio salad at Tasty ‘n Alder, so we decided to try MEC’s version. It had a little of everything – bitter from the radicchio, creamy from yogurt, sweet tang from cherries and a pleasant crunch from toasted bread crumbs ($8). It was very good, but I like Tasty’s crunchy pork belly-and-egg version even better.
The Israeli meatballs ($8) we ordered had a crunchy crust and were bursting with strong spices. The best happy hour deal by far was the gigantic Merguez sandwich – for $10, my husband got a huge hunk of grilled ground lamb and beef on charred pita with harissa, yogurt sauce, fries and shaved pickled onions. Our kiddo sampled the pita, fries and a few bites of the meat. My Youvetsi, baked beef ragu with orzo ($9), was a perfect rainy day Middle Eastern comfort food, but it was too spiked with unfamiliar flavors for my daughter, who can usually handle a little bit of spiciness, to thoroughly enjoy.
Overall Mediterranean Exploration Company was a food adventure for my little one. But I think our next visit will be for a grown-ups-only date night.
Pro tip: We went at 4:30 p.m. to hit the happy hour menu (4 p.m.-5:30 p.m., when selected offerings are $1 to $2 cheaper than the dinner price). That’s the time to go with really young ones, it wasn’t terribly busy, we had little wait for the bathroom (key for a toddler learning to master the potty) and we could try lots of different items without breaking the bank. They take reservations for dinner, but not happy hour. And remember, searching for parking in the Pearl can be arduous, so leave extra time for that.
333 NW 13TH Ave. Sunday-Thursday 5:30 p.m.-10 p.m.
Friday-Saturday 5:30 p.m.-11 p.m. 503-222-0906,
More Mideast Flavors
Hit up TarBoush early in the evening to avoid a wait with hungry kiddos. While they have a kids’ menu, the large plates are ample enough to share. Chicken kabobs (warning: sometimes they’re spicy, sometimes they’re not), pilaf, baked lentils and rice, and heavenly TarBoush Foul Mouddamas (fava beans in a flavorful stock, topped with tahini), and, of course, pita and hummus are all kid-pleasers.
3257 SE Hawthorne Blvd and 5663 NE Glisan Ave., Tarboushbistro.com.
With long wait times for a table, super tight seating and frenetic, blaring music, Nicholas isn’t the place for tiny tots. But older kids will be able to roll with the punches a little more — and help you eat through the mountains of delicious food. Lebanese cheese pizza, Stephen’s chicken and kafta kababs are perfect for sharing.
318 SE Grand Ave. and other locations. Nicholasrestaurant.com.
We love Ya Hala almost more for its attached Lebanese grocery, where you can wander through the aisles and pick up a package of sticky, delicious baklava to go. But the restaurant is good too; come hungry, order a bunch of different mezze to share, and dig in.
8005 SE Stark St. yahalarestaurant.com.
Featured Photo by Chris Ryan