Went to Arabian Breeze for lunch today with a couple of Portland Food Group folks.
It's in a weird spot on NE Broadway (betw. NE 32nd and 33rd) - in that no-person's land between the hopping Irvington and Hollywood nabes, across from the fuel distributor and the Banfield. It's a nice enough space, though the seating is characteristically (for Portland, it seems) uncomfortable. Luckily, service is quick enough at lunch...
N. ordered a jallab drink ($2.75) (jallab syrup is a mix of grape molasses, rose water and sugar (thanks Google!) - it's combined with water to taste and poured over ice and topped with floating pine nuts) which was too sweet and too rose-y tasting for my palate, although it was a lovely deep garnet color.
They serve the large pita bread there. I think it was a bit too chewy and dough-y myself. Karam makes way better pita (esp. their whole wheat ones - yum!).
We shared a couple of appetizers: makdous ($3.75 - pickled baby eggplant stuffed with pine nuts, garlic, herbs, lemon, etc.) and labna ($5.25 - fresh yogurt cheese drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with mint and thyme with a pitted kalamata olive garnish). Both were expensive for what we got. The eggplant was very tasty but a very tiny eggplant was cut into 4 pieces which were about 2 bites each. The labna was good, but it is easy to make, and even cheap and easy to buy and $5.25 is a lot to charge for a plate of yogurt.
We ordered two main dishes and each came with a small house salad: a rice platter dish, Freekah ($8.75 - wheat "rice" imported from Damascus cooked with chicken, pine nuts, almonds, herbs and spices), and a be riz Lubya ($8.75 - slow cooked green bean and lamb stew over rice pilaf). These were fairly generously portioned. The Freekah had shredded chicken over the rice dish and was redolent of cinnamon and other spices. It was good, but we all favored the be riz Lubya. We thought we were ordering a green bean stew without meat, but there were cubes of lamb in there. Even though I do not care for lamb, I liked this stew a lot. It had a tomato base and whole cloves of soft and yummy garlic and was very tasty. The pilaf (rice and vermicelli) underneath it was very good too.
We ordered two desserts: rice pudding ($4.75) and namoura ($2.75 ). The rice pudding came as a parfait (layered in a glass) of what seemed to be chocolate pudding and rice pudding separated by thin wafer cookies that softened in the pudding and topped with ground pistachios. it was not at all what any of us expected, but it was good enough - heavy and creamy. The namoura (aka basbousa, a semolina cake soaked in rose water syrup) came to the table cold out if the fridge and barely soaked in syrup. I was interested in trying it as it is what I am probably making to bring to the PFG potluck on Sun. From reading lots of recipes, I realized that it should be warmed and the syrup should really soak into the coarse cake.
When the server came by, she asked how dessert was, and we said that the namoura tasted old and dry and that she could take our plates away. She did and then came back and said that the kitchen was sending another piece out prepared correctly and that they were sorry. This piece came out warm and soaked in the syrup and was tasty...and I had a great lesson in how not to serve namoura/basbousa! It's a shame that they didn't do it right the first time, though - ya know?
Total bill was around $36 which was fine for what we had overall. I still think that the apps were too expensive, though... It's too bad they don't have a sampler plate where you can try more than one thing. The menu is more interesting than Nicholas' menu - with stews and rice dishes and other specialties.
If I am in the nabe, I might go back. Overall, for what I tried, though, Karam is still better.