By Cat Wurdack

2448 E. Burnside

503.954.2322

levantpdx.com

Tues – Sat 5 pm – 10 pm

Levantine (“where the sun rises”) describes the cultural exchange and growth of modernity in the Mediterranean during six hundred years of the Ottoman Empire.

Levant, the French-Arabesque restaurant on E. Burnside, channels the spirit of a dynamic Levantine culture unconstrained by any one language or tradition for a globe-trekking food adventure by polyglot chef-owner Scott Snyder.

The multicultural feast of small bites and cold and hot starters and entrees, is drawn from centuries-old cooking traditions that developed among the Levantine Jews of Spain, Portugal, the Mediterranean, and Arab countries.

Snyder switches up these traditions using classic and modern French cooking methods and a Pacific Northwest bounty of locally-sourced vegetables and meats.

Imagine flash-fried cauliflower on a schmear of lightly sweetened house-made yogurt with tahini, pickled golden raisins and fresh mint; grilled Cornish game hen with a Yemen-inspired green chile paste and tabbouleh; a vegetarian Turkish-style dumpling of feta and ricotta with pea medley and preserved lemon.

Snyder receives a whole lamb from Cattail Creek each week and uses every bit of it for variations on woodfire-grilled leg and chops, spicy lamb sausage, sweetbreads, and tongue.

For dessert, the pistachio milk custard with salted pistachio brittle and halva is a whimsical plate of not-too-sweet pistachio-themed bites that pleasantly signal the end of the meal.

If you see something that intrigues, you should order it because Snyder and his sous chefs are alway creating new dishes and the menu varies daily.

Basically, Snyder has upgraded the original and highly-touted Mediterranean diet to distinctive comfort food with compelling flavor, artfully presented. The spring menu is cobbled together from simple ingredients — fava beans, radish, potato, asparagus, quail — that have been served at family tables, religious rites, and celebrations for centuries. It is extra-ordinary peasant food which he has elevated to fine dining with skill, imagination and flair.

The dining room is a comfortable mix of contemporary, medieval-inspired Mediterranean decor with dark woods, aged and hammered metals, a fig tree, bright floor-to-ceiling windows which slide open, and an outdoor patio. The ultra cool inverted chandelier of rope and metal looks like an art installation.

Bring curiosity and a beginner’s mind and prepare for a learning curve. There is opportunity here to eat well and increase one’s culinary vocabulary with surprising ingredients and flavors: harissa, dukka, bottarga, halloumi. Questions are welcome and expected.

Levant’s front of the house staff are good natured, knowledgeable, and poised. If they don’t have the answer to your questions, they will cheerfully return to the kitchen and find out.

Reservations are welcome for parties of five or more.