Vegan Offerings for Portland Dining Month 2014

Back in 2008/2009, I was making ‘good money’, writing reviews, and absolutely throwing my no-kids-and-no-car (oh hello, student loans) disposable income on dining out. I was four years into my Portland residency, feeling comfortable, and blatantly wanted to experience anything and everything the enticing vegan scene had to offer. This was around the time that little vegan trattoria popped open in the evenings at Cellar Door, Nutshell closed (again, for good) and Blossoming Lotus moved across town into its own lovely, individual space.

Already well-established for intriguing, seasonally influenced (I mean, obsessed and glorified), versatile Pacific Northwest cuisine, Portland was finally on the cusp of mature, vegan dining and I wanted it all on my ever-rotating plate.

A lot has changed in the past 5 years — besides my own spending and culinary habits — with the opening of Portobello’s renowned, ambient spot on SE Division (the street now being a whole other topic for discussion), the evolution of Vita’s Natural Selection and the now requisite vegan menu at Departure, not to overlook modern vegan takes at Harlow, Canteen, The Sudra and exquisite vegan offerings at Bamboo Sushi and other non-vegan specific places, to name a very, very quick few big ones. Plus, a certain Oregonian FoodDay writer went and stayed vegan, which brings even more exposure across the board. Looking back to my own heyday, there was a time when The Farm’s Herb-Crusted Tofu Marsala was at the very top of my list of recommendations, and while I wouldn’t pass up a dinner date at the old Portland favorite, there’s a whole lot more that pops into my head first (Sorry, Farm! I’ll be back, one of these days).

It’s a mesmerizing time to be tasting one’s way through vegan Portland and seeing just what’s unfolded, as I tiptoe back into the vegan dining scene for Portland Dining Month.

PDM_logo

What’s happening (aka the official blurb):

Your key to the city is a fork. Explore Downtown Portland and beyond this March, when more than 90 restaurants serve up three tasty courses for just $29. Tastes to excite. Savings to savor. In addition to being the best time to eat your way around the city, a donation is made to the Oregon Food Bank with each online reservation made using the links below. via Portland Dining Month

Starting today, 2014’s edition promises 90 local restaurants offering a special 3 course meal for $29. A total of 6 establishments are offering handcrafted, vegan selections, and I can only expect the number to grow by next year (Note: this list includes 7, but I’ve confirmed with Urban Fondue that they intended for vegetarian options, not vegan).  Simply put, I’m thrilled to see vegan chefs and their contemporary creations taken seriously. This month is unique chance to show support for creative, plant-based cuisine, while supporting the Oregon Food Bank (and hopefully in turn, encouraging some more legumes and beans in their own mission), and all that jazz.

I’ve included the full list of vegan-offering spots below, in somewhat blatant order of my own interest, their Portland Dining Month descriptions, menus and any other information they’ve shared. Please realize that as indicated by the official website, “These restaurants have indicated that they have a vegan option available in their listed Portland Dining Month menu, or upon special request. Please contact the restaurant for specifics and to confirm availability.” And that, I did. I’ve followed up with all of the restaurants (save for Portobello, which is obviously vegan) to learn more details, and received intriguing menu confirmation from Smallwares, in addition to noticing Xico updating their own website. I will update anything else that comes my way and share my experiences (surely on you know what) as I go. Please feel free to chime in, and don’t mind how spacious these menus are.

Portland Dining Month restaurants offering vegan options:

Restaurant #1: Portobello Vegan Trattoria
Vegans enjoy the Mediterranean-inspired organic, locally sourced fare at Portobello. The restaurant works with several farmers before the growing season begins to plan the next season’s menu.
Vegan Menu Offering…
First course:
Beet salad with roasted pear vinaigrette, toasted hazelnuts, frisee and aged cashew cheese
Second course:
Trumpet royale mushrooms pan-roasted and served with Brussels sprouts, truffled potato puree and lemon cashew beurre blanc
Dessert:
Baba au rhum: Orange-rum syrup-soaked baba cake stuffed with coconut pastry cream
Thoughts: Oh, heck yes. Damn my treenut woes. I wonder if they’d let J. Legume experience this and let me order off the menu…

Inside Portobello. Image source: OhSheGlows.com

 
Restaurant #2: Smallwares
Smallwares is an acclaimed forty-seat restaurant with an open kitchen that serves small plates of “inauthentic Asian cuisine” meant to be shared. The restaurant’s bar, Barwares, serves eclectic wine, sake and cocktails.
Vegan Menu Offering…
Oyster mushroom, den miso, yuzu koso dressing, radish sprout, puffed rice
Mixed greens, charred lemon vinaigrette, avocado, nori croutons, kochu karu
Spicy rice noodles, sichuan tofu, salted black bean, pickled pineapple, Thai basil
Thoughts: Smallwares gets big points for being the one restaurant to confirm their vegan courses via email, and even bigger potential points for pickled pineapple and Thai basil. Be still, my Thai cuisine-loving heart. Out of all the restaurants, this is the one menu I’m the most realistically tempted by. To be continued!

Inside Smallwares. Image source: Pdx.Eater.com

Restaurant #3: Departure Restaurant + Lounge
Located atop the Nines Hotel, Departure Restaurant offers a modern take on Asian cuisine in a sleek, cosmopolitan setting with two outdoor decks and stunning views of the city, mountains and river. Chef de Cuisine Gregory Gourdet creates dishes with a modern twist using traditional Asian preparations and Northwest ingredients. Departure’s bar showcases exotic cocktails, a global wine list and the city’s largest sake list. Sip a cocktail on the 15th-floor outdoor patio and take in the magnificent view of Pioneer Courthouse Square and the heart of downtown Portland.
Menu Offerings…
First course (choose one):
Kale salad with bacon, pickled apples, ginger, sesame vinaigrette and puffed rice
-OR-
Marinated prawns with blood orange, fried chickpeas, harissa, watercress and mint
Second course (choose one):
Crispy rockfish with green papaya, roasted garlic and sweet chili glaze
-OR-
Grilled beef coulette with toasted broccoli, Korean chili and fermented black bean jus
Dessert (choose one):
Pineapple icebox cake with banana ice cream (hmm?), candied almond and spiced caramel
-OR-
Cardamom chocolate pot de crème with sweet cherry preserve and ginger snap
Thoughts: Hello, strike-through. Clearly, Departure can, will, and gladly offers interesting, technique-driven, Asian fusion vegan offerings. Do let me know if you experience their vegan offerings during the month, so I can update this and live vicariously. Dreaming that those desserts are vegan, of course. I bet they can pull those off.

Inside Departure. Image source: Pursuitist.com

Restaurant #4: Xico
This upscale casual Mexican eatery takes a fresh and seasonal approach to Mexican fare. Xico is committed to quality and sustainability, offering small plates and entrees that cater to both carnivores and vegetarians. The walk-up lunch window serves rotisserie food to hungry passersby on the go.
Vegan Menu Offerings…
First Course
Tortilla soup made with white beans, tomatillos & chiles, garnished with fried leeks, diced avocado, crumbled chiles, fresh Xico tortilla strips & optional Mexican cheese
Second Course
Oaxacan tamales made with butternut squash masa, filled with plantains, Oaxacan black beans and avocado leaf, and served with Mexican rice, crunchy jalapeño escabeche, salsa de muchos chiles and optional crema and queso fresco
Desert
Mexican candies plate
Thoughts: I’ve taken the menu offerings from their website, which has recently added the vegetarian-vegan menu options for Portland Dining Month. I’ve been eyeing this place since it opened up on the other end of Division Street. Despite (I mean, thanks to) all of the construction, Division is Portland’s “restaurant row” of the moment, and appropriately has me terrified of my rent being raised on a weekly basis. That being said, I know I’d dig experiencing this menu with a Mezcal cocktail or two, and finding out more about the Mexican candies.

Xico on SE Division Street. Image source: Tripadvisor.com

Restaurant #5: Tabla
Tabla is an Italian restaurant specializing in fresh pasta using the best local ingredients. Inspired by the rotating menus of Italy and the fresh, seasonal ingredients they highlight, Tabla seeks a balance of the traditional and modern. It offers both local and Italian wines, seasonal specialty cocktails and local beers on tap.
Menu offerings:
First course (choose one):
Winter salad of local chicories and escarole, Castelvetrano olives, celery and black pepper-Parmesan dressing
-OR-
Beet, apple, celery root, hazelnuts, horseradish cream (hmm?) and arugula
-OR-
Buffalo mozzarella with tomato sauce, garlic oil and grilled bread
-OR-
Crespelle with butternut squash, mint, chili flake, chèvre and watercress
-OR-
Cauliflower sformato (naturally, assuming eggs here) with gorgonzola, arugula and toasted walnuts
Second course (choose one):
Tajarin with truffle butter and Parmigiano Reggiano
-OR-
Tabla ravioli with chard, ricotta, poached farm egg and poppy seed butter
-OR-
Ricotta cavatelli with braised lamb, red wine and Pecorino Romano
-OR-
Gnocchi with butternut squash, brown butter, sage and Parmigiano Reggiano
-OR-
Spinach rigatoni with braised pork sugo, fresh mozzarella and Parmigiano Reggiano
Note: Gluten-free pastas available on request.
Third course (choose one):
Risotto with fontina, spinach, pine nuts and 30-year aged balsamic
-OR-
Seafood stew with scallops, clams, mussels, prawns, caramelized fennel, spicy garlic tomato sauce and grilled bread
-OR-
Braised pork braciole with tomato and garlic sauce and buckwheat polenta
-OR-
Duck confit with potato, guanciale, kale and saba
Thoughts: Gosh, I seem to recall Tabla doing a special vegan dinner series years and years ago, and I adore Italian cuisine, so consider me once again intrigued. I hope all of these abhorrent strike-throughs can be proven wrong, because I can easily head back to Portobello at the top of this list. Their menu does call for information on any special food allergies or dietary needs, so there is a current awareness. What I’m saying is, Castelvetrano olives always make me swoon and I’d love to know if any of the housemade pasta is without eggs, and what they have in store.

Outside Tabla. Image source: bunrab.com

Lastly, Restaurant #6: Bistro by Truss
At the Portland Marriott Downtown Waterfront’s urban restaurant, the Bistro by Truss, it’s never one thing! Experience exploding flavors combined with amazing service. Chefs work with the best local and seasonal products, merging their experience and creativity to surprise your palate. Open for lunch and dinner, the restaurant also offers a selection of eight local and seasonal beers on tap, as well as a coffee bar in the mornings with breakfast sandwiches and Starbucks coffee.
Menu Offerings:
First course (choose one):
Soup of the day
-OR-
Arugula and pear salad with grilled bread and Parmesan and lemon vinaigrette
Second course (choose one):
House-made papperdelle and Bolognese
-OR-
Dungeness crab and chive risotto
Dessert (choose one):
Chocolate flourless cake ice cream sandwich
-OR-
Orange pot de crème with vanilla bean shortbread
Thoughts: So this is a Marriott without direct contact information for the restaurant, and although the current menu isn’t as bad as I’d imagine, it includes the seriously named “PDX Food Cart Street Tacos” and Starbucks coffee. I spent years working trade shows and conferences out-of-state, so I’m no stranger to a martini and hummus plate at a hotel restaurant for dinner, but it’s not what I have in mind for Portland Dining Month. It can be safely said, barring a riveting vegan option announcement (hey, you never know), that I’m skipping this one.If you happen to find yourself partaking, I’m very curious to hear what they serve up as the vegan dessert and just how the hummus is these days. Really.

Waterfront Marriott, home of Truss. Image source: Yelp.com

You can see the full lineup for the month and make reservations at all the participating restaurants here. I’m about to make my first reservation, folks.

2 thoughts on “Vegan Offerings for Portland Dining Month 2014

  1. It’s all such ancient history but…the special vegan dinners at Tabla were hosted and cooked by the person who then became the original chef at Nutshell. And you know how things went from there. I live near Tabla and have never seen any signs of vegan friendliness from them since that time.
    Thanks for this roundup! I already know and love Portobello and Departure, I am intrigued by Smallwares and Xico.

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