Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Portland Restaurant: M.E.C. Mediterranean Exploration Company

What: M.E.C.
Where: 333 NW 13th Ave
When: Wednesday - Sunday 5:30 - 10pm
Honeys Heart: Grilled Octopus Salad 

Mediterranean Exploration Company (MEC) had their soft opening in the Pearl (thanks for the heads up Little Green Pickle!) and of course Katie and I had to go! It was open to the public so we brought a few friends, which turned out to be great since there was so much food to try.

It was busy and we needed to get our bearings so we started by ordering drinks at the bar. I went for the Fez Tassle ($10) with novo fogo silver cachaca, black mission fig, lime, and sugar. Not a bad way to start the night, but not my favorite. The drinks that follow were definitely more my style.

Katie went for a Turkish Delight ($9) which is more our cup of tea with Sobieski vodka, Ceylon tea, lemon, Reagan's orange bitters, and orange blossom water. 

Alex and Adam opted for bourbon, while Brian and Doug went with beer. Nothing exciting to report on their choices, but they all seemed satisfied. 

The samples were coming out in rounds and being randomly set on tables throughout the space, so the six of us found a skinny table by the DJ (DJ Waffle, woot, woot) and waited for someone to notice the slight bit of "hanger" happening in our corner. Hungry and hot are not a good combo for some of our friends. Luckily we had a couple great servers take care of us and we started off with Warm Castelvetrano Olives ($4) and the Fried Calamari ($13) with spicy tomato sauce. Crispy, but not overly breaded. Great start.

Next was Katie's and my favorite dish of the night. The Grilled Octopus Salad ($12) with roasted sweet peppers was perfectly cooked. The sweet and savory combo and texture of the octopus made for an all around satisfying dish. One highlight for me throughout most dishes were the fresh herbs that gave a brightness to the flavors.

While in our DJ corner we also got the Chopped Salad ($8). Simple and refreshing. 

All of the meat dishes were perfectly cooked and the Greek Lamb Chops ($12/$24) were no exception. I recently decided I really love lamb and this confirmed that thought. The oregano, garlic, and lemon garnish were great enhancements. 

While the boys headed to the bar, Adam spotted a table along the window so we lucked out with a place for the group to sit. The opening was a hit and the bar took some time, so while we waited Adam, Katie, and I might have sampled the next couple dishes to be dropped by without waiting for the other boys to come back. These crispy Greek Potatoes ($7) were simple, crispy, and salty. 

Following the potatoes was the Mackerel ($13) with a beet-olive salsa. The fish was crispy and the beets were perfect. Shhhh don't tell though because the rest of the group didn't get any of it. 

Time for drink two. The punch. It was perfect. There was gin, cucumber, and mint involved. Alex ordered it so unfortunately I don't know any more details, but I know I would have it again. 

Now for more food. The Dry Aged Rib Eye ($28) with baharat, red chili, and pine nut butter rivaled the earlier lamb chops. I definitely prefer red meat to chicken (or other winged animal meats) and their preparation hit the spot. The garnish on the dishes complimented but didn't take over the plate (like blue cheese on steaks sometimes can...). 

A new experience for me were the Fried Anchovies ($9) with skordalia and lemon. I was skeptical but these were actually really great and salty, which always scores points with me. 

Okay, so this pan fried cheese and oil was so good. You know how some people always go for the "crunchy edge pieces"? Well this entire thing was the crunchy edge piece.

I know, I know, it's never ending. The Salmon Carpaccio ($14) with arak, dill, and capers was unexpected at this point in our food adventure, but light and delicious. Surely better as a beginning of the night dish.

Yep, that's right, round three of drinks. I went for the Tai Tai ($11) with pueblo viejo silver tequila, combier orange, pistachio orgeat, lime, mint and crushed ice. I was a bit concerned the pistachio flavor would be too much, but I ended up really enjoying this. 

Katie went for the Retsina Spritz ($9) with retsina, lemon, mint, cucumber and soda. Very refreshing and light.

And more food. The MEC Lamb Gyro ($12) was huge and tasty. The $12 price is a bit high when you can get a really fantastic gyro at many a food cart around Portland, but the quality of the ingredients was really great and it would definitely be a satisfying plate for one. 

The Kebab ($7 ea), a combination of beef and lamb was again, delish.

Time for dessert. A Rose Water Panna Cotta ($8) with pistachio caramel led the transition. Sweet and tart, definitely the favorite of the two desserts we tried.

The Triple Nut Biscotti ($15) with '95 Fratelli Grati, Villa Vetrice, Vin Santo del Chianti Rufina was a cute idea, but I'm not a fan of dessert wine, or biscotti typically, so I could have passed on this. The instructions were to soak the biscotti in the wine until is was "sopping," but even then it was just okay.

It may seem impossible, but there were items we didn't try that were definitely on my radar. The grilled Octopus ($15) with piquillo pepper and dill looked amazing and who doesn't love a Beef Bacon Wrapped Date ($2 ea). Reasons to return I suppose.

Keep in mind the food was all complimentary as part of the soft opening and we only paid for drinks. When it's free it's easy to be excited about all the dishes, but at the end of our night we discussed if we would come back on our dime. We collectively decided the flavors and quality were excellent and it would be worth returning. There are reasonably priced items if you're on a budget, but it would also be a great option when parents are in town and treating to dinner!

They haven't announcing their full-time hours or if there will be a happy hour but they begin taking reservations August 1st.

Thanks MEC for an excellent experience!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Seattle Weekend: Mamnoon, Canon & Ma'Ono

When we last left off, Doug and I had enjoyed lunch at Paseo, a round of beer and bocce at Von Trapp's and a cocktail at Sun Liquor. Now: dinnertime!

Doug and I rely on Eater PDX's 38 Essential Restaurants and Heatmap lists quite a bit when choosing restaurants to try in Portland so Doug figured why not take a closer look at Seattle's too?

He ended up choosing Capitol Hill's Mamnoon, described by Eater Seattle as follows: "Mamnoon has created its own scorching hot rep with its Lebanese/Syrian cuisine. While the menu can be unfamiliar to those who have not tried this type of food, the entire thing is pretty much rock solid. You can't go wrong with any of the dips or salads - great starting points as you work your way down to more adventurous entrees." Sounded good to me!

What: Mamnoon
Where: 1508 Melrose Ave, Seattle, WA
Honeys Heart: Muhammara

Let me just start by saying that Doug made an excellent choice. Mamnoon was everything (and more) that we wanted Levant to be. Similar to Levant, the prices are pretty up there, but this time the expense felt way more justified.

As Eater recommended, we started off with some dips and veggies off the mezze (small plates) menu. Our favorite by far was the Muhammara dip ($10) made with walnuts, pepper paste, pomegranate, and cumin. I love walnuts and their nuttiness combined with the spiciness of the pepper and the sweetness of the pomegranate put this dip on a whole new level. I might have licked the bowl. Might.

We also tried a hummus with fresh peas (the menu changes frequently so I can't tell you much more than that) and Arnabeit Makli ($8), which is fried cauliflower. The hummus was very refreshing and I think based on Mamnoon's cauliflower and Bollywood Theatre's equally delicious take, Doug has a new favorite veggie.

For our main course, we had the Kefta ($22), minced lamb with onion, pistachio, and baharat. Just like everything else, this was delicious- but we were pretty full on pita and dips by the time it arrived.

If we ever go back (which I hope we will!) we might just stick to mezze and not go for a larger plate.

After dinner, it was time to head over to see 5th Avenue Theatre and ACT Theatre's co-production of Little Shop of Horrors, the reason we were in Seattle for the weekend in the first place. Little Shop is my favorite musical and I'm lucky enough to have seen it on Broadway and in the West End- so I had pretty high expectations.

The show was sooo good. Great singing and amazing props, especially the Audrey II puppets. I think Doug is definitely a Little Shop fan now too.

After the show, we decided to stop for a drink or two at our favorite Seattle cocktail bar: Canon.

What: Canon
Where: 928 12th Ave, Seattle, WA
Honeys Heart: Whatever float is on the menu

Similar to my favorite cocktail bar of all time, Drink in Boston, Canon makes delicious craft cocktails, has great hospitality... and there's usually a wait to get in. It's worth it though!

The menu is extensive and you really can't go wrong, but my favorite menu option is the rotating float. The first time I ordered the float, it was a Chartreuse cocktail topped with vanilla ice cream. It was pretty much amazing.

This time, the float was the Movie Night Float ($10) made with bourbon, fernet, rootbeer and topped with popcorn ice cream. At first I was like, "meh, that sounds kinda gross." But then I got it and was like "OMG, best thing ever." Seriously, order the float. You'll thank me for it.

After a few drinks, we made a quick stop at Dick's for a late-night snack (Doug made me!) and then headed back to our AirBnb apartment for the night.

The next morning, we headed over to West Seattle for a late brunch at Hawaiian-inspired Ma'Ono, also on Eater Seattle's Essential 38. 

What: Ma'Ono
Where: 4437 California SW, Seattle, WA
Honeys Heart: Bottomless Mimosas 

The wait was 20 minutes for the two of us, so we decided to grab some Bottomless Mimosas to help pass the time. This was probably not the best idea as we were still recovering from the effects of our Canon cocktails the night before... but oh well.

Once we were seated, we had a very difficult time picking out what we wanted. Everything on the menu looked both delicious and overwhelming at the same time.

Eventually Doug settled for the French Toast ($14) served with fried chicken nuggets and sausage gravy. Ma' Ono is known for their fried chicken so the nuggets seemed like a good way to get a taste of the restaurant's specialty.

I went for the Loco Moco ($14), a big bowl filled with wood-grilled chuck, Portuguese sausage, fried egg, brown gravy, rice, grits, and grilled pineapple. This was an unusual choice for me since I usually choose a sweeter or at least lighter brunch option, but in my hungover state, it sounded perfect.

In the end, while both our dishes were good, we ended up with a ton of leftovers plus the feeling that Ma'Ono would not make our own personal Essential 38 list. Contrary to all our other stops over the weekend (Paseo, Von Trapp's, Sun Liquor, Mamnoon, and Canon), I think this would be the only spot I'd be hesitant to return to.

Also, yes we ate and drank A MILLION things that weekend. That's why a month later, we have put ourselves on a Paleo diet. Yep, happening. Nope, not excited.

Till next time, Seattle!

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Portland Restaurant: Tamale Boy

What: Tamale Boy
Where: 1764 NE Dekum St
When: Tues-Fri 11am-9pm-ish, Sat 10am-10pm, Sun 10am-3pm
Honeys Heart: Cochinita Pibil 

Oh to be young again. Well, younger back when we still had "summers" and our parents helped us pay for stuff. My cousins, Kendall and Reed, stopped in Portland towards the end of their month-long (yep, month-long!) sibling road trip around the country and of course we needed to take them to a Portland hot spot. I still hadn't made it to Tamale Boy so we decided to make the trek to NoPo.

Tamale Boy has you order at the register, get a number, and take a seat. The five of us took some time with the menu but finally settled on some food and drinks. Adam kept it classic with a Margarita ($9) and I went for a sweet and spicy El Diablo ($9) with jalapeƱo vodka and mango puree. Both were refreshing, but Adam's won the vote for favorite by the rest of the table. I still stand by my choice. I'm a sucker for mango. 

Kendall's friend from USC, Ian, went for the Tamarind Whiskey Sour ($9) with Burnside Bourbon, tamarind puree, lemon juice, simple syrup, and egg whites, which was also good, but almost too tart. Surprising coming from me, I know!

For food, Reed opted for two Carne Asada Tacos ($2.50) and the Cochinita Pibil ($4.50) a Oaxaquenos tamale, aka a banana leaf wrapped tamale, with slow roasted pork cooked in citric juices and spices. Adam and I got both of these items also and were definitely happy about it. The banana leaf wrapped tamale seemed to have less masa than the corn husk wrapped versions which I thought provided a bit more balance. The tacos were also a favorite. Adam could have had more of those!

There were a couple special tamales on the board and Kendall decided to go for the Tamale con Kale and Brussels ($9) wrapped in kale with brussels sprouts and capers on the side. I definitely liked the kale wrap on this tamale, but at $9 it was a bit pricey compared to the other options and probably not as filling. If you're looking for "bang for your buck" I would probably stick to the main menu.

Ian opted for another one of the specials, the Quesadilla. I don't think you can ever really go wrong with a quesadilla and this was no exception. The meat inside was flavorful, and a little spicy, and it came with a verde sauce and a spicy sauce.

It already sounds like a lot of food, but we also shared a few tamales from the Norteno Tamales ($3.50) section of the menu, or cornhusk wrapped tamales. To really experience the menu we went with one of each. A Chile Verde with pork cooked in a green tomatillo sauce, a Tinga de Pollo with chicken cooked with onion, garlic, and chipotle in adobe, and a Rajas with roasted pasilla peppers, onion, corn kernals, and queso fresco.

The Chile Verde was my favorite from this bunch (the tamale on the far left of the photo below). The tomatillo sauce made it the most moist of the three, while the other two were a little dry.

Not pictured, we also ordered the Guacamole ($8) that claimed to be made tableside. It wasn't, and for $8 it was not nearly as big as I wanted it to be. I'd skip that next time. Overall, the patio was great and the food and drinks were good. If you navigate the menu so you don't spend so much on guac and specials, it's also a pretty affordable option. I'd definitely recommend it on these warm summer nights!

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

DIY Party: 4th of July

For the past three years, Kelly and Adam have hosted a 4th of July party at their house.

What? People don't sing the National Anthem at your 4th of July parties? You must be doing something wrong.

Anyway, Kel and Adam have the perfect setup because you can see the fireworks happening down on the river from their deck. Their deck also happens to be large enough to fit a beer pong/flip cup table... which is always very important for 4th of July parties, I'm sure you agree.

Here's a quick rundown of our 4th of July basics, just in case you want to replicate what has become the biggest party of the year in our little circle.

For us, 4th of July means margaritas. Not sure how that got started, but we're keeping it going. Here are some of our favorite margarita recipes:

Corona Margaritas- These are super simple and the ingredients are cheap, which makes them great for large crowds. Haters gonna hate, but you try these and see if you don't get rave reviews.

Three Citrus Margaritas- Based off the margs at Elephants, these margs are a great little twist on a classic margarita. And you can make them in bulk pretty easily too.

Blood Orange Margaritas- This is the recipe we're trying out this year. We'll let you know how it goes, but they sound good, don't they?

Our 4th of July party starts at 3pm and continues throughout the night, so games are a great way to keep everyone occupied.

Beer pong and flip cup are obvious choices.

We also have a lot of fun playing a drinking version of Twenty Questions. Before our guests arrive, we write down different "America" things on sticker labels. These can range from historical references (Paul Revere, The Liberty Bell, The Civil Rights Movement) to pop culture references (a bald eagle, apple pie, Tim Howard). As guests arrive, we stick a label on their back.

Then throughout the night, guests have to ask yes or no questions to try to figure out what they have on their backs. We make it a drinking game by making players take a sip of their drink every time they ask a question but aren't ready to guess what's on their backs. The fun really starts when a player makes an incorrect guess and then has to take a jello shot as a penalty. Last year we ran out of shots. We won't make that mistake this year.

BBQ anything and ask guests to bring a snack or dessert. Super easy!

Happy 4th!