In the former home of Alder Pastry and Dessert on E Burnside Street, past a five-foot stack of lumber and photographs framing fez-toting, babushka-wrapped immigrant families, lies Portland’s first foray into Sephardic Jewish cuisine. At the L-shaped bar, black sesame syrup is shaken with egg white and saffron honey infused into cream. Around the corner, a six-foot-wide hearth roasts legs of lamb, crisps sardines, and sears stuffed squid. This is first-time restaurant owner Scott Snyder’s Levant, fusing the Jewish flavors of Spain, Portugal, North Africa, and the Middle East into one of the year’s boldest openings.
Take a seat beneath a spider-like chandelier that dangles over 2,300 square feet of warm wood detail and cool blue cabinetry. From the menu of small bites, starters, and entrées, you might find grilled sardines over a Tunisian potato salad or an open-face sandwich of chopped liver on grilled challah with a Manischewitz reduction. Snyder shows off his hearth’s firepower in a dish of lamb four ways: leg suspended over the fire and carved to order, rib chop grilled rare, shoulder ground into a cumin-scented merguez sausage, and neck braised with dried apricots. Just don’t get attached to specific fusions; Snyder promises seasonal menu shifts.
2448 E Burnside St
The daring cocktail list matches Snyder’s dreams. The thick and voluptuous Pillow Talk takes inspiration from the house playlist—saffron honey cream, turmeric, ginger, and cardamom. A reverse-engineered martini, the Phaedon infuses gin with olive oil and borrows coriander bitters for a buttery, smooth finish. Even the wine list pushes with a geeky lineup of far-flung vintages, from Oregon to Israel and Lebanon.
Early hiccups are to be expected: slow service, very toothy white beans, and an adventurous plum brandy cocktail that borders on cough syrup. But as it finds its footing, Levant is charting an intriguing spice route, hearth to tumbler.
This article appeared in the June 2013 issue of Portland Monthly.