Mixed Reviews of Al Amir and Maiden   Leave a comment

Al Amir's chicken shawarma dish with rice at lunch was such juicy tender chicken. And the baba ganoush was surprisingly good, with a really smooth appearance and texture that I was suspicious at first, but the flavor was neither too garlicky or smoky- and it definitely had good flavor rather then overcooked eggplant blandness, which happens far to often. Wonderful surprised. It was a shame that the hummus and rice were pretty bland and the pita bread not fluffy fresh (they are warm but that's it, no different tasting then what you could get at the store and warm up yourself), so except for the chicken and baba ganoush not anything to write about (so I'll just stop now).

Karam is just around the corner and I plan to visit there sometime, so perhaps I'll compare then. Certainly I already know their hummus and pitas don't measure up to Madena of the Pearl, though their chicken is better (but then Madena has great falafal- it comes dry but is helped by a sauce they drape on it… though I didn't try Al Amir's falafal.) Honestly, Madena's hummus and pita isn't the best I've had, but passes enough muster until I find my replacement for my Chicago standbys.  

Admittedly, I was drawn to The Maiden because of a drink I had read in a magazine. The Trunk Monkey is a concoction of New Deal's Hot Monkey chili pepper vodka, muddled lime, pineapple juice, and a dash of grenadine. That vodka really made the drink- I could taste the burn on my tongue and down my throat, and it was a good warmth. New Deal's distillery is actually in this neighborhood and I hope to visit their tasting room some day and will be bringing a bottle of this home to mix drinks with in the future, definitely.

The tapas disappointed though. The bacon wrapped dates stuffed with manchego cheese were great- if you only wanted to taste bacon wrapped dates. And, the patatas bravas (fried potatoes with tomato frito sauce), a classic seemingly easy dish, wasn't spicy at all, though the potatoes were at least cooked perfectly- it was the sauce that failed. I had been too full to order my other dish I use to judge tapas- tortillas- but I don't think I missed out.

Just goes to prove that you can't win them all- I find that most restaurants don't excel with all their offerings on the menu, and the trick is to be lucky enough or in the know enough to pick the winners. That's where so far, I've found refuge in Yelp and Portland Food
and Drink, but nothing as trustworthy as my sources of lthforum in
Chicago yet.

Maybe I just look at the world through rose-tinted glasses, but I hope that if I hear a good review and if not all the food is excellent, there must at least be a couple dishes that the chef excels at that made him a chef rather then any other Joe Schmoe cooking at home. The trick is, whether the rest of the experience was good enough to warrant another try- hopefully there was at least a hint of something done right in one of the dishes to flag potential. What happens after that- maybe I discover their star dish that is the only dish I order but is otherwise a perfect to me concoction, or I have a few dates and have to cut my losses and break up (like I did with Typhoon. First time I went I really disliked it, but it was nearby Thai and I stumbled upon a fall special 08 of tilapia with basil and bacon and chili fried rice, and then their pine cone fish and miang kum offering, before wanting to send back dishes like several of their basic noodle dishes that were worse then even standard Americanized Thai hole in the walls' attempts). Even Thomas Keller and Grant Achatz can't please every palate with every dish- just like art it's also the perception of the individual, but just because someone isn't Michelangelo doesn't mean that they can't produce some pieces you really like, as long as that sniff of real talent is there.

Al Amir gave me that sniff of potential with the execution of that chicken, but The Maiden- well, maybe more of an after dinner drink place before hitting the food carts at Hawthorne.


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