I’ve heard good things about Karam from a reliable foodie friend, but it was only relatively recently that I finally was able to visit this Middle Eastern cuisine restaurant. It is located not far from Al Amir, the home of my favorite baba ghanouj. I wondered going in how Karam would stack up, including to my Chicago standby Reza‘s.
To be fair, Reza’s is Persian, while Karam is specifically described as Lebanese. So I forgive them for not having dill rice, and my interest was peaked by their offering of kibbee, a national Lebanese dish made with ground meat, onion, and bulgar.
Our dinner entrees came with a fresh side salad, and we were excited to see some interesting beverages, especially the fruit infusion one I had that was made with homemade yogurt. I could see myself craving those drinks during the summer.
I passed on specifically ordering the the kibbee this time to try their Baleela, their take on hummus served hot, steamed garbanzo beans mixed with garlic, cumin, olive oil and tahini sauce. Really really good, definitely would recommend it. I did get to try the kibbee as well- more in a moment.
I ate almost that whole plate on my own, because he got the huuuge Veggie Mazawat, which is a sampler of, from left to right and back to front row, taboule, baleela, falafel with tahini sauce and grape leaves (on the same plate), baba gahanouj, veggie kibbee nayee, hummus, and labne their homemade Lebanese cheese and the wrapper is from the basket of fresh oven baked pita bread! If you are coming in for your first time, this is a good way to try a little bit of everything, obviously.
After the full Veggie Mazawat shot, you can see closeups of what made up the sampler. First photo is a look at the taboule, baleela, and baba gahanouj. I don’t think the baba gahanouj is as good as Al Amir, but that baleela still is awesome and unique. Following that is the closer look at the baleela, falafel with tahini sauce and grape leaves (on the same plate), veggie kibbee nayee, hummus. Very filling sampler that filled our table with 7 plates of goodies to try
For my entree, since I would get to sample the kibbee from the Veggie Mazawat, I decided to try something else. Based on a foursquare suggestion, I went with Lamb Couscous, a dish of tender lamb shawarma topped with feta cheese and tahini sauce. I think I only ate 1/4 of that lamb, it was good but this was a really big plate. When we asked for a box, they brought us boxes for *everything* so we didn’t waste any food by throwing it away… and it did still taste delicious the next day. Despite the lack of dill rice, this place is the closest to giving Reza’s a run for my money, and is my pick for Portland for Mediterranean food right now.
The restaurant is a family business with the men greeting and serving while the wife gives you a taste of her incredible (probably literally) home cooking based on recipes that have been passed down. They take great pride in their food- giving you lots of choice including ones that are unique, lots of it on a plate to make sure you don’t go home hungry, all executed well, they check to make sure you are enjoying your meal and heap new fresh in house pitas onto your table. Whether you are someone who already enjoys Middle Eastern food and is looking for a new take on it or someone trying to expand their ethnic cuisine palette, Karam is going to pleasantly surprise you with flavors – look past the simple traditional plating and indeterminate mush look and put it in your mouth and enjoy.