BEND, Ore. - joolz revisited

When we got the opportunity to take some dear friends to dinner in Bend recently, we immediately suggested joolz. Our friends enjoy Mediterranean food and quickly accepted our recommendation.

We first discovered joolz in the fall of 2011, at a time when it was relatively undiscovered by the masses. Now, nearly seven years later, it has come of age and reservations are almost a necessity, especially during the winter and summer tourist seasons.

Armed with said reservations, we arrived before our guests and were immediately shown to our waiting table. Our waiter came by to offer beverages for us to sip as we waited for our friends, then came back quickly when they joined us, earning high marks for service.

As we sipped our beverages and caught up, we decided to nibble on the mezze sampler. For the uninitiated, "mezze" is a selection of small dishes served in several Mediterranean and Middle Eastern countries as an appetizer course. Our sampler plate consisted of hummus, baba ghanolu, spiced olives, dolmas (rolled grape leaves stuffed with rice and spices) and pita bread. Just the thing to take the edge off.

For our main courses, our gentleman friend and I both selected the lamb skewers. His wife decided on the vegetarian platter of warm dolmas, tzatziki sauce (a traditional sauce made of yoghurt, cucumber, lemon juice and garlic), flash-fired cauliflower tossed with lemon and parsley, fresh falafel and tahini sauce. My wife chose the Forbidden Black Rice chicken bowl of Moroccan barbecue braised chicken over black rice with tabbouleh, toasted almonds and pine nuts.

While my counterpart and I both enjoyed our lamb kabobs (his medium; mine medium rare) and his wife relished her veggies, the chicken in my wife's dish was decidedly overcooked. In addition, the entire dish lacked flavor, as though the kitchen had gone far too light on the spices. Not something one expects in Mediterranean cooking.

On our previous visit, we enjoyed spiced olives, kibbe (Lebanese meatballs made of beef and lamb and simmered in sauce), hummus, and oven-roasted cauliflower. Then as now, abundant pita bread provides plenty to nibble with every course.

The entry door to joolz, located at 916 NW Wall Street, is at an angle to the sidewalk, and the establishment does not have a garish, neon sign like so many business, making it a slight challenge to find. But with its interior decorated in rich fabrics and long, flowing curtains that evoke the feel of a Bedouin tent, and its (usually) delicious Mediterranean menu offerings, it is well worth the effort.

Our server – attentive without being intrusive – left us to linger over our wine and conversation, then brought the check promptly when we were finally ready to go. Prices are quite reasonable, especially considering the portion sizes and the fact that it is located in a tourist destination. Dinner for the four of us, including two glasses of wine, the appetizer and main courses, was $125 before gratuity.

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