After a long day’s drive in blistering heat into and out of Mount Rainier National Park and Mount St Helens Volcanic National Monument and checking into our motel, my wife and I were ready for a margarita and an ice cold beer. (Mis)guided by Quality Inn’s confusingly formatted list of recommended local restaurants in Gresham, we headed straight for what I thought was the address of a Mexican restaurant, but instead wound up at Nicholas, a Lebanese and Middle Eastern restaurant. It was too hot (over 100oF) to get back into the car, so we decided to stay.
The interior is spacious and dominated by sunflower-colored walls decorated with black-and-white photographs and oil paintings. The wait staff was cheerful and friendly and prone to use “we” when referring to “you,” which I personally find a tad annoying.
Each table had a tall pizza stand that I thought took up too much table space if I wasn’t going to order a pie. But the reason for it became obvious when an enormous, complimentary pita bread (☆☆☆½), fresh out of the oven, about 24″ across, was placed on top of the stand. You tear pieces off and dip them into the manakish (a blend of olive oil, oregano, thyme, dried mint and toasted sesame seeds), a dish of which was on every table, or into other spreads ordered from the menu. The menu is liberally sprinkled with pictures of many items to help those unfamiliar with the cuisine. To us, several things were very familiar because we had them at Omar Khyyam in Renton, which unfortunately closed for business several years ago. Here were the recognizable grape leaves, lentil soup, falafel, tabbouleh, hummus, baba ghanouj, fried cauliflower, shish tawouk, and kibbeh, but also many items we’d never heard of. As it turns out, there are in fact “pizzas” whose base is the enormous pita, topped with a variety of Lebanese ingredients, including lamb, chicken, manakish, spinach, and roasted spicy peppers (shatta).
For starters, our thirst for ice cold beers was satisfied with bottled hefeweizen and Laotian beer served with frosted mugs. I love when restaurants do that.
Our vegetarian mezza consisted of tabbouleh salad, hummus, falafel with tahziki, spinach pie and tiny manakish pie. All were delicious, though the highest praise goes to the tabbouleh (☆☆☆☆), in which quinoa substituted for the usual bulgur and lemon juice was used with restraint, and to the wonderful tahziki (☆☆☆½) that my wife seemed to put on everything.
The mezza and pita bread turned out to be enough food, so we began to wonder whether it was wise to have ordered the shish tawouk (chicken kabob). We soldiered on but without regret. This was a fine example (☆☆☆). It may not make us forget Omar’s splendid version, but the chicken pieces with onion and bell pepper slices were perfectly grilled, served with an outstanding toum. The rice was denser and mushier than we’ve had before, though its flavor was very good.
Nicholas opened its first restaurant in Portland in 1986. Two more followed, including the one in Gresham.
323 N Main Ave.
Gresham, OR 97030