Try these dishes on for size: Kofta burgers (ground lamb) with roasted jalapeno mint butter. Baba ghanouj (eggplant dip) with fresh pomegranate seeds. Classic hummus (chick-pea dip) with sautéed bits of elk steak, pine nuts, lemon juice and parsley.
It’s “meze meets mesa,” the cuisine of the eastern Mediterranean with a Southwestern U.S. flair. This is what you can expect at JOOLZ, the new restaurant that Ramsey and Juli Hamdan will open next month on Wall Street in downtown Bend … in the former location of Bistro Corlise and Vino Mercato. I, for one, am really excited.
If you’ve been around central Oregon for a few years, you probably know the Hamdans. Ramsey, 44, is of Lebanese-American heritage. Born and raised in Beirut, he made occasional brief visits to his mother’s home in West Linn, near Portland. On one of those trips that he met Juli Stonelake, the college roommate of his step-sister.
Smitten, Ramsey quit his job with CNN in Rome and stayed in the States and before long married Juli. He studied hotel and restaurant management at Lane Community College, cooking at Portland’s Western Culinary Institute; after a year at a leading Portland restaurant, he was asked to return to WCI. Soon he became chief instructor, and he stayed at WCI for 11 years.
Juli, who had been an art history major in college, worked in events planning for Wieden+Kennedy, the big Portland public-relations agency. When the Hamdans came to Bend in 2001, it was only natural that she should run the front of the house. They bought the Jackalope Grill from Axel Hoch; after selling it to Timothy Garling in 2005, they pursued other ventures. Most successful was Barking Squirrel, a catering company. Last summer, on a three-month lease, they operated an eastern Mediterranean restaurant of that same name in Sunriver. It was essentially a dry run for what will become JOOLZ.
Scott Byers will join Ramsey as his kitchen lieutenant and chef de cuisine. The pair worked together at the Jackalope. Byers since has run the kitchen at many other restaurants, from the Inn at the Seventh Mountain to the Astro Lounge to Byers’ own short-lived The Spot in Redmond.
They hope to open the new restaurant by April 20, blending ethnic elements with Hamdan’s classical training. Lunches may be added by the end of May.
“People may want to call it Lebanese fusion,” Ramsey said, “but I’m trying to stay away from the ‘fusion’ word.” Everything from flatbreads to desserts will be made in-house, he said. The menu will range from falafel and tabouleh salad to kabobs, cheeses, olive plates and dukkah, an Egyptian nut-and-seed dish. “We will be heavy on tapas,” Ramsey said. “We’ll probably have 15 to 20 small plates.”
The menu will also feature drinks imported from the eastern Mediterranean, including Almaza beer from Lebanon and arak, an alcoholic beverage of unfiltered anise and grape juice, similar to Ouzo.
Juli is decorating her namesake, JOOLZ, to give it a sort of casbah appeal. “She’s been to Lebanon four times,” Ramsey said. “She’s picked up the (native Arabic) language almost too fast.” An orange-and-gold palate, colored lanterns, fluffy pillows and solid-colored mosaic tables will warm it up. World music will play from the mid-afternoon through the dinner hour; in the later evening, after about 9:30, when the bar is still serving small bites, the mood will get a bit more upbeat, Ramsey said.
And don’t be surprised to see the Hamdans’ 10-year-old daughter, Sadie, bustling about the restaurant in the earlier evening. “She’s the boss lady,” Ramsey said.