Considering that Adam took over 130 pictures of London restaurants we ate at, it was only natural that we start chronicling our thoughts and opinions about the food we eat. We've totally become accidental foodies. It all started out when Sheila started calling Adam "the human trash compactor"; since he eats almost anything. But somewhere along the way we started having discussions about food and seeking out culinary adventures when on travel. We bring a unique perspective to this arena as we're both vegetarians (no meat, poultry, or fish). I suspect we will both have varying opinions on the food, and hope to not only have a record for posterity, but provide some fun, useful if not amateur insight.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

An unexpected surprise with Portobello Vegan Trattoria in Portland ...

Although we’re vegetarian, Sheila and I don’t often frequent vegan restaurants not necessarily by choice, it’s just there are very few in SF. Nevertheless, after having read reviews on Yelp and Eater PDX, we made reservations at Portobello Vegan Trattoria for our upcoming trip to Portland which is known for its eco-friendly, sustainable, vegetarian happy persona. Now you’re thinking how can there be a vegan Italian restaurant? How about cashew cheese, beet burgers, and seitan sausage? Don’t be shy about trying something new, because Portobello Vegan Trattoria was an unexpected surprise.

Portobello is located in an indistinct metal and glass shopping center approximately 2 miles southeast of Downtown Portland.  The space itself is warm and inviting, with sustainable and recycled would furniture, warmly lit chandeliers and a cozy banquet seating. The wait staff was friendly and extremely helpful in navigating through the interesting selection of options – all of which we wanted to try. After asking our waitress for some recommendations, we decided to each have our own entree and then split a dessert – the beet burger, spicy arrabbiata pizza, and bourbon vanilla & salted caramel ice cream.
Beet Burger – a house-made beet burger on fresh baked rosemary foccacia with carrot aioli, arugula, red onions and tomato confit. I was surprised that Sheila ordered this and up until it arrived she was a bit skeptical. But after the first bite, that all changed, this was a perfectly balanced and flavor packed burger. The beet patty was moist, the carrot aioli was creamy, the tomato confit slightly tart, and the arugula & red onions were fresh. The bun was a lightly toasted rosemary foccacia which had a wonderful herb and olive oil flavor. The portion size was quite large, so Sheila ended up cutting the burger in half so I could have some. I am often disappointed in veggie burgers because the patties are a dense block of flavorless wheat, corn, black bean, and carrots. This was not, the patty was light and airy, which I had the recipe!
Spicy Arrabbiata Pizza – a take on a neapolitan style pie with seitan-made Italian sausage, cherry peppers, garlic, basil, tomato marinara with chili, and cashew creme. I’ve never really been a fan of faux meat, until a few years ago. With all of our travels my culinary curiosity has broadened, but even seitan sausage was a stretch. Upon first bite, both Sheila and I uttered the words – that’s interesting. And as we kept eating slices our taste buds adapted to complex flavors of this dish. The sausage had a salty flavor, the cherry peppers packed the heat a la jalapenos, the marinara was plump and juicy, and the cashew crème was silky smooth. Of course, we’ve come to know great pie crust, and Portobello’s version was quite good, slight charred on the edges but with a nice chewy texture. We end up with three left over slices which I happily ate cold the next day. That should say it all from this pizza snob!   
Ice Cream – a scope each of bourbon vanilla and salted caramel. A wonderful mix of sweet and salty, Sheila and I found ourselves trading bites back and forth. The bourbon definitely came through as did the pure vanilla bean. The salted caramel was good balance to offset our other scoop as it start off salty upon first bite with a gooey aftertaste. We both thought this was a great palette cleanser to end our meal.  
Despite our initial apprehension, Portobello turned out to be a wonderful neighborhood restaurant and worth the trip outside of Portland touristy City Center. The dishes were inventive takes on Italian classics, although in a thoughtful sustainable manner. The original flavors preserved, this restaurant was able to transform each dish without us even missing the diary. With that, I rate Portobello a strong 8 out of 10.

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