Killer cocktails and wonderful food at new Middle Eastern joint

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When the CN Shawarma food truck owners decided to turn their attention to opening a new restaurant, I was excited to have a set location to go try their goods. Because the food trucks roam and rotate about the city, it’s somewhat difficult to try specific ones without a little luck or investigation and it’s usually not convenient. Baharat finally opened on Anderson St. in the East Bayside area of Portland a few weeks ago and I couldn’t wait to get there.

We were able to grab the last table available while waiting for a friend to arrive. We viewed the food and drink menus and I walked up to the special board to take a picture because it was a little difficult to see from my angle and I didn’t want to have to keep looking up from my menu to check it out. A waiter with extraordinary sideburns approached us to inquire as to whether we wanted a drink besides water. I ordered the Return of Sumac – sumac infused tequila, mezcal, citrus, dehydrated lime rim. She wanted Fruits of the Trade – runs, apricot, citrus, spices.

The drinks showed up and our friend arrived and ordered hers, going with the A Rad Mirage – vodka, Lebanese yogurt, honey, mint, blender. While the ladies spoke, I paid attention to my beverage and gave it a slurp. Oh baby! It was magnificent, one of the better tequila/mezcal drinks I’ve had in recent memory. With a moderate smoke tempered by citrus, it was slightly strong and pleasantly lemony – a really well balanced cocktail.

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I took a sip of Mrs. Portlandeater’s drink and found it both very strong and very fruity. It was good on both counts and figured I might order that another time. When our friend received hers, I took a sip of that too. It didn’t feel like a drink because it was so insanely tasty, I could only think of it as dessert, eBen though it wasn’t overly sweet. The top portion of the drink was a light, frothy dairy treat with a hint of mint and honey. It was unbelievable.

It was time to order some food. I was hungry and ready to make the most of it. I started with the Turnip Pickles and added Za’atar Deviled Eggs – local eggs, smoked paprika. My main course was the Chicken Plate – minted rice, house salad, and Iraqi flatbread. My wife ordered the House Fries – sumac, toum – and also the chicken plate. Our friend went with the Lamb Kofta plate.

As we waited for the food, I sipped my marvelous drink and couldn’t help but notice that the crossbars on the table made it difficult for me as a tall human to pull up my chair and get close to our spread. It wasn’t the end of the world, but it was mildly uncomfortable to have those against my knees. When the first food came out, I was able to forget about knee bars and turn my attention to the pickles and eggs.

Turnip pickles were my first interest and the bright sticks were quite delicious, reminding me of pickled beets. They had lots of vinegar and seasoning. The eggs were up next. Sitting in a metal tray, they had what I figured was a paprika spread underneath, a smattering of za’atar on top, and the yolks were also well appointed with similar flavorful enhancements. They were absolutely delicious with lots of Middle Eastern notes that didn’t make me forget I was still eating deviled eggs.

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Both apps were shared amongst the table. I was super pleased with how great everything tasted and looked forward to my chicken. We finished the starters and the plates weren’t far behind. Both the chicken and lamb kofta – or meatball – plates had two skewers absolutely loaded with the seasoned meat. In addition to the flesh were equally-sized piles of bread, rice, and salad. The chicken had some toum – or garlic sauce – lining it.

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My wife mentioned that she was waiting for fries and we were told that the order was going in. We started on our plates anyway. I immediately tried the chicken, of which there were at least six sizable pieces on each skewer. In what can only be described as understated brilliance, the spiced chicken and sauce didn’t hit like a truck, but more soothed like a melodious hymn. The glorious flavors were enchanting.

With a bunch of chicken eaten, I checked out the rest of what I had and felt the same as with the bird. None of them were a punch in the face, just a subtle serenade of savory sides. The only thing I felt was missing was an additional side of the toum. A little cup of that sauce would have been nice to dip into, particularly for the flatbread. But either way, it was all praiseworthy.

Half way into the meal, we got the fries. Topped with more of the toum and cut into small wedges, I tried one right away as did my wife. They were to die for. Over-the-top crispy, they were as tasty as could be and some of the best fries I’d had in recent memory. I couldn’t get enough as I ate much more than my share of the perfect potatoes and took the last bites of the wife’s chicken.

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At the end of the meal, we had an extra fry on the bill, which once fixed, put us at about $95 prior to tip. Despite my oft repeated feeling that prices are too high at new restaurants in Portland, I didn’t feel that way at all when I saw the final tab at Baharat. The amount of food we received in addition to the quality of both food and drinks made it feel like a bargain. The atmosphere was cool and casual and even though they just opened, they’re drawing quite a crowd. I’m happy to say that Baharat was so awesome that I’m already planning what to order on my next visit. Maybe that will happen tonight.

Stay hungry.

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