Portland is one of the best cities in the U.S. to visit if you are vegetarian or vegan. Vegan offerings are common and there are even, wait for it, the world's first vegan strip club! In today's post I try one of Portland's signature dinner experiences, a 13 course vegan degustation at Farm Spirit.
It's 8:20pm and we have arrived early to Farm Spirit. We were warned to not be late to the small 14 seater vegan restaurant. There are four people sitting down so I pop my head in the door. They all turn around, "We're just setting up for the next session, we'll be another 10 minutes," the man says smiling and we wait outside. Over the next 10 minutes a crowd appears around us while the four people in the restaurant leave. At 8:30pm they open the door, thank us for waiting and let us in. And then begins our 13 course vegan dining experience.
The man with the handlebar moustache introduces himself as Rico and then introduces his fellow chef Maya and the dish washer Melissa. They are the only restaurant staff on this evening. He encourages everyone to relax and if we want to, lick fingers or the plate if we want. All the food is vegan and generally from a 105 mile radius with the exception of some spices and the use of evaporated cane juice for sweetening.
People need to pre-book and pre-pay for a dinner here in advance. Drinks can also be pre-booked or you can choose on the night from wine a la carte or a wine pairing flight that ranges from a Cascadian Natural Wine Flight for $50USD a person, an Oregon Beer and Cider Flight for $30USD or a Housemade Temperence Flight of soft drinks for $30USD.
I try the first drink, a Lemon Rosehip Rejuvelac Spritzer which is made with lemon and a quinoa rejuvelac probiotic drink with a rosehip tisane and soda water. It's sweeter than I had expected and delicate with rosehip and a touch of lemon.
I watch as the two chefs plate the snacks in front of us. Much of the meal has been prepped during the day by the day chefs for the 2 seatings and this is to alleviate the stress on the two main chefs Rico and the owner Aaron Adams. When they started out the first service was just the two of them and they quickly decided that a dishwasher was necessary. Then after working single shifts and very long hours they streamlined their lives to have two services which allowed them to hire extra day chefs to prep. They now have a better quality of life working 40 hours a week.
The first "snack" are two round discs of Dakota black corn cornbread from Junction City with an aquafaba "mayonnaise", a sprinkle of Jacobsen salt and a chamomile nectar in place of a honey butter. It's sweet and appealing and a nice bite to start with.
I watch them prepare the next snack and there is one element that proves slightly vexing. It's the thin disc of tomato water agar jelly. Some of the jellies break and Rico removes these from the plate. Underneath the jelly sheet there's blanched, skinned sun gold tomatoes, nasturtium juice, elderflowers. The tomatoes are deliciously sweet from the sun.
Rico explains that celtuce is a lettuce that is actually cultivated for the stems rather than the leaves. Once stripped back from the woody fibrous outer, the sliced stems taste like cucumber. This is a refreshing dish with celtuce from Persephone Farms, dill oil, cucumber juice and coriander flowers. He encourages everyone to lift the bowl to our lips and drink the juice at the bottom of the bowl.
The next item is what he calls a "taco" with a little gem lettuce leaf topped with allium (onion and garlic) puree, fermented Napa cabbage and hakurei turnips. To get the best of all the tastes you need to eat this in one big bite really because while I wasn't as taken with the first bite I really liked the second bite with a bit of everything.
The next drink arrives and it's a black pepper tisane with anise hyssop. It comes in two layers with the kombucha and black pepper tisane on the bottom and then a siphon of the anise hyssop foam.
The next dish is a pretty one with thinly fanned diva cucumber atop a roasted charred zucchini puree with pickled mustard seeds, tiny lavender flowers and agastache flowers. The agastache flowers are the pink flowers that taste very strongly of anise while the rest of the dish is a simple but tasty pairing.
The next course ends up being one of my favourite ones. It's a chilled summer soup made with blanched and pureed hazelnuts with fennel juice and cubes of sweated, soft fennel and basil oil. To top it are fennel fronds and sweet cicely. You really need to mix this dish up so that you get some of the lovely soft fennel cubes in each spoonful and this ends up being quite a satisfying dish.
The next drink pairing comes out and this is my favourite drink with jupiter (seedless muscat) grapes and a lemon balm shrub with a head of nitrous Anise Hyssop.
The next dish is hidden under the layer of quinoa crisp. It's three pieces of summer squash sous vide and pan fried for a bit of caramelisation. There's smoked and roasted eggplant, basil leaves and sage blossoms while the quinoa is a locally grown and sustainable quinoa.
Because of the bar seating, people can chat to the chefs easily and I ask if everyone that works here is vegan. They answer that not all the chefs are vegan, certainly Rico and Aaron are but Maya isn't. It isn't a prerequisite for a job there but they don't take meat in to eat there to respect the space.
We are now up to the eighth course and it's carrots, abalone mushrooms and onions slow cooked in a Pinot Noir and mushroom jus with padron peppers. To finish it off is parsley juice and a sprinkling of green garlic ash. The bowl and their crockery was designed to be held in one hand with the spoon in another and it fits so nicely cradled in the hand.
The next drink is a simple chamomile kombucha. When I go up to use the unisex bathroom Melissa the dishwasher comes out to replace my napkin.
The next course is the penultimate savoury course. It's round Yukon gold potatoes steeped in vegetable broth on top of a hazelnut yogurt made with a vegan yogurt culture and hazelnut milk. There are garlic and dragonhead leaves that give it a citrus flavour as well as chamomile blossoms that go surprisingly well with the dish. I might have thought that they might clash but the meld together perfectly.
The final savoury dish has one of my favourite elements. There's De Noble globe artichoke hearts with a tomato stewed farro, tiny shiso leaves, tangerine blossoms and tangerine sage. There's a broth underneath of sunflowers and to the side are crispy onions.
I loved this course especially because of the intensely flavoured farro which I'm almost embarrassed to say tasted strong like there was fish in it but what can I say, I liked that about it.
Between savoury and dessert they bring out an ice packed drink of blackberry shrub with water kefir and rhubarb. "Drink Me" it says and I refresh my palate with this sweet drop.
And then comes a course of spruce tip ice cream with an apple sorbet base, macerated blackberries (it's the height of blackberry season) and marigold blossoms. The ice cream is superb - fresh but not too medicinal or after shave-like.
And to end off there's a huckleberry buckle. A buckle is a bottom layer of cake topped by berries and then streusel. The berries are blueberries and loganberries and there's an orange nasturtium sauce on the side.
Rico explains that that is the end of the meal but that's not everything. They hand us each a slice of berry breakfast slice for the next morning's breakfast. I can't wait (of course) and I take a bite of it while writing this. The bread is soft with berries studded throughout and a delicious sugar topped crust on top.
So tell me Dear Reader, what did you think of this meal? Are you vegan? If not do you often eat vegan or vegetarian food?
NQN and Mr NQN were guests of Travel Portland but all opinions remain her own.
1414 SE Morrison St, Portland, OR 97202, USA