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!