Mediterranean restaurant gets better with every visit

I suppose it happens a lot with the quantity of restaurants I go to, but a return trip to Tiqa after not having been for a long while made me feel like I was there for the first time again. The Commercial St. Pan Mediterranean restaurant serves food inspired by a number of countries from Italy to Israel and Portugal to Palestine which provides for a diverse and interesting menu. I was curious to see how the restaurant was holding up since I was last there.

We entered the enormous eatery and checked in, touting our reservations. We were seated in a corner against a window and immediately started picking out beverages. I was quickly drawn to the Rock the Casbah – Buffalo Trace TIQA Select Bourbon, St. Germain, lemon squeeze, fresh mint, whiskey barrel bitters. Both its name and the bourbon gave me the sense it would be excellent. She wanted the Sangria – a secret Pan-Mediterranean recipe of wine, brandy, and juices.

After ordering the drinks, we went straight to food. Apps, soups and salads, kefta and kabobs, and main courses made up a full list of offerings. Prior to figuring out what we wanted, Mrs. Portlandeater and I agreed to share an app and then order our own main courses. After a little discussion, we decided to start with the Cauliflower and Labneh – golden fried cauliflower, herbed garlic cheese. It was suitable for my recent cauliflower kick.

When our drinks came, we ordered the cauli and held off on the entrees since we hadn’t decided on those yet. I wasn’t even considering making a selection until I tried my beverage. I took a swig. I liked it, but didn’t see or taste any of the mint which I was looking forward to. That didn’t kill it for me, but I was mildly disappointed. I’m not sure if the mint was really weak or completely forgotten, but it seemed to be the latter.

Shortly after our first sips, we received bread with some olive oil and za’atar and placed the rest of our orders. She decided to go with the Chicken Kabobs – onion herb marinade, buttermilk aioli. I had considered kabobs, but finally ordered Scallops – pan-seared, chilled corn cream, smoked potatoes, North Country Bacon. The combination of food in the dish sounded promising.

Our bread provided a pleasant distraction until our app soon arrived. The cauliflower rested in the cheese and nearby was a circular drizzle of oil. I grabbed a bite of the vegetable and made sure there was plenty of the soft speadable dairy product on it. I don’t know how cauliflower and garlic cheese could be bad and it wasn’t. A little crunch and some herbalicious flavor won me over quickly.

The appetizer was a hit at our table of two and we both ate it with enthusiasm. When it was finished, we had a little break until the scallops and kabobs came rolling out. My plate looked like a work of art with the cream as it’s base. Every ingredient was visible and some bright colors gave it a fresh feel. Her meal came with lots of chicken, turmeric and herb rice, house pickles, and the aioli.

A scallop looked me in the eye and told me it was ready, so I cut it in four and took a quarter on my fork. I then dragged it through the cream and ate it. The fresh scallop paired beautifully with the sweet, rich cream. The flavors were glorious. I was equally taken by the potatoes which exhibited a moderate smokiness that, not surprisingly, went well with the cream too. The thoroughly cooked bacon pieces added another striking element to the plate.

As I made my way through the food in front of me, I noted that the meal was particularly stellar in that not only did every individual piece work well together, but they also all stood solidly on their own too. The cream acted as a cohesive element and it was all exceptional in any manner I decided to consume it. I was sold.

My wife let me try a bit of her chicken and rice which was also very tasty. They were both well seasoned and perfected prepared. I ate those after finishing my own meal and used the last bit of cream from my plate to add even more flavor to them. Once we were both done, I decided it was appropriate to view the dessert menu.

Dessert was meant to be I decided, and we agreed to share Baklava – layers of crispy filo, pistachio, and almond filling, rosewater syrup, served with lemon sorbet. As one of my favorites, I just couldn’t pass it up. Before long, that came out in all its flakey splendor. We requested the sorbet on the side as I didn’t want the pastry to mix with it for safety reasons.

The baklava was presented beautifully and what I expected otherwise. The sorbet was excellent too, though I made sure to eat them separately. I loved the nutty, sweet dessert and everything it stood for. Once I finished with that, the sorbet gave me some cool citrus to wash it down. We both had our share and when all was done we settled the tab which came to $114 after tip.

Tiqa was even better than I remembered. They were more than satisfactory in the past, but my meal this time might have been the best yet. The seafood, pork, and potato combo in cream was extraordinary with the app and dessert as excellent bookends. It left me feeling like I had eaten something very special. The restaurant is putting some high quality flavors out from their kitchen and a meal there is most definitely one you’ll enjoy. You’d do well to pay them a visit soon.

Stay hungry.

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Peter Blanchette

About Peter Blanchette

Peter Peter Portland Eater grew up in Lewiston, Maine and graduated from the University of Maine in Orono with a degree in English. After college, he left the state to work in Massachusetts, but the allure of a more comfortable life in his home state brought him back after eight years. Upon his return and after meeting his now wife – Mrs. Portlandeater, he slowly integrated himself into the Portland food scene by trying as many restaurants as he could afford. That and a desire to write for others again led him to start where he reviews restaurants and blogs about whatever Portland/Maine food topics he finds interesting.