JOOLZ

Food: () Lebanese and Middle Eastern ingredients adapted to Western tastes.

Service: () Prompt, personable, knowledgeable — some of the most professional in Bend.

Atmosphere: () Exotic and welcoming, but soundproofing would be a welcome addition.

More Info

Location: 916 NW Wall St., Bend

Hours: 4:30 to 10 p.m. Monday to Saturday

Cuisine: Lebanese fusion

Price range: Bar menu $7 to $12, small plates $5 to $15, full meals $14 to $27

Credit cards: American Express, Discover, Mastercard, Visa

Kids’ menu: On request

Vegetarian and gluten-free menu: Numerous choices include the mezze sampler with hummus and baba ghanouj

Alcoholic beverages: Fully licensed

Outdoor seating: Limited sidewalk tables

Reservations: Highly recommended

Contact: www.joolzbend.com, 541-388-5094

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When a restaurant is able to offer terrific food and service in the midst of an evening of unexpected turmoil — and a visiting restaurant critic doesn’t even suspect there’s a problem — you know it’s doing a lot of things right.

Such was the case recently at Joolz, downtown Bend’s premier Middle Eastern fusion restaurant.

Ramsey Hamdan, the executive chef and co-owner, had taken a rare weekend to go fishing on the Oregon Coast. His second in command, chef Greg Bouchard, was stunned when on that busy holiday Friday, two line cooks told him they were quitting, effective immediately.

No stranger to the stormy food-and-beverage industry, Bouchard called in emergency replacements and carried on as if nothing had changed.

With the support of a veteran service staff, he pulled it off without a hitch. Hamdan didn’t hear a whisper until his return to Central Oregon with a cooler full of Winchester Bay pink-fin surf perch.

The fact that he was able to do so, and that Joolz cuisine and service stayed consistent throughout, is testament to Hamdan’s mastery not only of cooking, but also of training and kitchen management.

Two cultures

Joolz has been a major part of Bend’s culinary scene since it opened 10 years ago, in May 2009. Once the head instructor at the Western Culinary Institute in Portland, Hamdan and his wife and business partner, Juli Stonelake Hamdan, had settled in Bend in 2000. Before launching Joolz, they were owners of the Jackalope Grill and the Barking Squirrel catering company.

Hamdan has a foot in two cultures, and his cuisine demonstrates that on a daily basis. His Lebanese father and Southern Oregon rodeo-queen mother met at university in California. He was born and raised in Beirut, but returned to his mother’s home in the Portland area for college.

Oregon became the permanent residence for a man who had grown up on Lebanese and Eastern Mediterranean food. “I lived this food for 21 years,” Hamdan told me. “It has a huge variety of ingredients that you can do so many things with. And it’s healthy!”

Over the years, my companion and I have enjoyed a wealth of fine dishes here, from the budget-priced Ecstatic Hour listing at the bar and from the main dinner menu — split evenly between small plates and full entrees. Among our perennial favorites are the forbidden black rice chicken bowl ($10 or $19), a blend of Moroccan barbecued chicken with nuts, salad and sauces; the flash-fried cauliflower ($11) with tahini dipping sauce; Hummus on the Range ($12), topped with olive oil-and-lemon-seared elk medallions; and the house-ground falafel sandwich ($13), fried crisp and served in a warm pita pocket.

New tastes

On our most recent visit, we decided to change it up and try some things we hadn’t previously sampled. And we were not disappointed.

We started with Lebanese chickpea masala ($8), garbanzo beans crispy-fried with cumin, cardamom, tomatoes, garlic and medjool dates, sprinkled with cilantro and red onions.

We requested our Mediterranean chopped salad ($12) be served with a pair of tender meat skewers, Anderson Ranch lamb and Oregon beef (each $9). Both kebabs were delicious, but as lamb lovers, we gave a little edge to that tasty meat. The greens, served with tomato, red onion, cucumber, red bell pepper, parsley and crumbled feta cheese, were enhanced by a wonderful mint-and-pomegranate vinaigrette.

A smoky beef schwarma (or shawarma) platter ($19) is Joolz’ version of one of the most popular street foods of the Middle East region. Spice-rubbed beef is sliced from a vertical rotisserie grill and served with hummus, tabbouleh salad, smoky Armenian pickles and Lebanese baked naan bread, like a thick pita. My only dispute with this dish was in the preparation of the tomato-heavy tabbouleh, tossed with lemon juice; I normally expect it to have a greater portion of bulgur wheat and parsley than this recipe.

We both loved the Pacific seafood tagine ($27), slow-cooked in traditional pottery. San Francisco has its cioppino, the French Riviera its bouillabaisse; this North African dish, from the south side of the Mediterranean, highlighted white prawns, Manila clams and seasonal halibut simmered in a tomato-and-lemon broth with fingerling potatoes. The secret ingredient was chermoula, a spicy marinade that is rich in garlic, coriander and cumin.

Mmm, date cake

And then there’s dessert. We never get tired of caramel date cake with whipped cream, a tasty treat without parallel in Central Oregon. But other sweets, including baklava pastry and a chocolate tart, are outstanding as well.

Service is some of the best and most professional anywhere in Bend. Every waiter and waitress is prompt, personable and knowledgeable about the cuisine. And a well-staffed hostess table that immediately greets new arrivals assures orderly seating.

Juli Hamdan, an art historian by education, created the exotic mood in the restaurant. Colorful silk fabrics, draped from the rafters, give it the feeling of a casbah. Around the walls are mounted the antlers of various species of antelope native to the Middle East, including oryx and gazelle. Arabic brassware, hookahs and hypnotic melodies accent the decor, along with a few whimsical modern paintings.

Joolz regulars may be sad to learn that Bouchard is leaving the restaurant to pursue new opportunities.

But his replacement, Stefan Khajavei, has already begun. Ramsey Hamdan said the new chef de cuisine has an Iranian heritage and outstanding recommendations from several years of work in Portland.

— John Gottberg Anderson can be reached janderson@bendbulletin.com

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