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Susan Axelrod

Susan Axelrod's food writing career began in the kitchen; she owned a restaurant and catering business for 15 years before turning to journalism. By day, she is the social media editor for Portland Press Herald. To relax, she bakes, gardens and hikes with her husband and their two dogs, preferably followed by a cocktail or a Maine beer. Susan can be contacted at 791-6310 or On Twitter: @susansaxelrod

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Posted: January 19, 2015

Exclusive preview: Friends & Family night at TIQA

Written by: Susan Axelrod

All photos by Ted Axelrod

TIQA, the glitzy new restaurant at the Courtyard by Marriott on Commercial Street put its kitchen and service staff to the test on Friday night with a “Friends & Family” event. Every seat in the stunning, multi-room space was full for the invite-only evening, in which guests were treated to selections from TIQA’s “pan-Mediterranean” menu.

Owners Carol Mitchell and Deen Haleem welcomed everyone with a series of tributes to the local contractors and city officials who had helped in the restaurant-construction process. The couple spent the rest of the evening bustling between TIQA’s lounge, dining room and private dining room, chatting with guests and reassuring those who had waited a long time for food that it would be forthcoming. This was certainly not the fault of Executive Chef Bryan Dame and his crew, who worked valiantly to crank out what must have been close to 1,000 plates.

TIQA’s impressive menu features the food of Southern Europe and the Mediterranean, including dishes native to Morrocco, Portugal, Spain, Eygpt, Syria and Lebanon. We sampled Kibbeh Hayyeh – seasoned beef and lamb tartare with pickled onion and za’atar crisps; roasted chicken with ancient grains pilaf, za’atar, braised greens and garlic, and various kabobs — a signature dish at TIQA — housemade chicken merguez sausage with eggplant, green onion and tomato, and kefta (ground lamb) with cilantro, pickled onion and grapes. All were delicious.

Desserts were also memorable. They included: Knafeh, a Palestinian sweet of cheese custard, orange blossom and pistachio, topped with shredded filo dough; an Italian-influenced flourless chocolate cake with olive oil panna cotta; and fatturato, from Greece, a fig and honey turnover with burnt caramel gelato.

Our server, like the rest them, was cheerful and professional in spite of what were clearly first-night pressures. TIQA opens to the public for dinner on Wednesday.

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