Best of Portland: Natural Selection

One of the best things we did in Portland was an unforgettable meal at Natural Selection.  If I lived in Portland, I’m pretty sure I’d be requesting to go there for every birthday, anniversary, or general reason to celebrate.  Amy dared say that she liked Natural Selection even better than the infamous Candle 79 in New York City.  Anyone who’s ever been to Candle 79 knows what a huge accolade that is.

All I can say is please, please promise me that you won’t ever travel to Portland without first making yourself a reservation at Natural Selection.

  

(One of the many things I love about this place: The “Eat Your Vegetables” message inscribed on the restaurant’s sign)

Not only was the food delicious, beautiful, fresh, and healthy, the place was just so… so… Special.

Now, I’ve never sat at a restaurant’s “chef’s table” before, and I suspect this is the closest I will ever come to one.  Every seat in this intimate restaurant feels like a Chef’s table with the open kitchen just steps away.

The service was as warm as the restaurant’s golden glow, and we marveled at the attention to detail – for example, every table’s set of water glasses had a different golden pattern.

This 100% Vegetarian Restaurant puts fruits and vegetables at the forefront, with dishes (and even decor) focused around local, seasonal produce.  Interestingly, as a vegetarian restaurant, they actually don’t even use any soy, making this food very approachable for non-vegetarians and vegetarians alike.

Considering how magical this place is, the pricing here is a steal – their menu is a 4-course Prix-Fix for just $40.  Oh yeah, and there’s no sales tax in Portland, so that’s 40-even.  The menu changes every two weeks and you can mix and match dishes from the two columns on the menu – the left-hand side being lighter fare that’s all Vegan and Gluten-Free, with the right-hand side typically offering heartier choices and incorporating a little bit of dairy.

For me, ordering was easy.  I just ordered the opposite of what Amy ordered so we were each able to have a taste of everything.

 We didn’t know it at the time, but as we left the restaurant later that evening, in chatting with the maitre d’ we learned that the restaurant was celebrating it’s 2nd Anniversary the weekend we were there.  To mark the occasion, this menu was a recreation of the menu from their Grand Opening in 2011!

To begin, I ordered the Cherry Fizz beverage of Cherry Juice, Ginger Ale, and Vanilla which was as delicious as it sounds.

I was pleasantly surprised when an Amuse Bouche was brought out for us – a White Bean Salad with Purple Cauliflower, Olives, and no… that’s not cheese on top – that’s light and fluffy melt-in-my-mouth Lemon Powder.

For our first-courses, I had the Herbed Parisian Truffled Gnocchi and Amy had their Sunchoke and Squash Soup.  Our server told us that they are famous for their gnocchi, but the soup was so incredibly delicious and complex that it beat out the gnocchi and won the first round!

For our Salad Course, I had an Orange & Radish Salad with both Watermelon and Icicle Radishes and Blood and Cara Cara Oranges.  Amy’s salad included Pears, Figs, and Blue Cheese and was served with an unusual yet delicious dressing – a fluffy and slightly sweet Lemon-Pistachio Cream.  I think you can tell from the pictures how fresh and perfect the produce is.

For our entrees, Amy had a Golden-Beet Mash with Polenta, Roasted Fennel, and a Red-Wine Sauce – I love how sunny and colorful it all looks!  My dish was a White Bean and Porcini Stew with Brussels Sprouts and Hazelnuts.  In the center of my plate, there was a roasted onion stuffed with a nettle risotto.  I’d never had nettle before, so I thought it was a really neat thing to include, though I thought it tasted a bit too floral for my liking.  I absolutely swooned over the sauce in the stew though.  It was so incredibly rich and savory that I had to ask the waitress what made it so delicious.  Her answer? A Romesco Sauce base!

With that inspiration in mind, I made my first ever Romesco Sauce (a sauce of Red Peppers and ground nuts) soon after returning home to Chicago, in the form of Veganomicon’s Chickpeas Romesco.  Yeah, so my version really doesn’t compare to the food at Natural Selection, but the Romesco Chickpeas were delicious and I am only bummed that I never tasted Romesco sauce sooner.

Before dessert we were served a Palate Cleanser of a Ginger Green Tea Granita.  I really can’t remember the last time I went somewhere special enough to have a palate cleanser.  It was a really nice touch and made the meal seem even more lovely and leisurely.

The desserts were simply incredible.  In fact, Amy and I couldn’t come to an agreement on which one was better.  I couldn’t believe that my perfect Fruit Crumble was completely Vegan, including the Coconut Ice-cream on top.  It was full of apples, pears, strawberries, and dried cherries and had a sort of fruit-punch like flavor.  It was served with a Ginger Cookie and two of the softest fruit jellies I have ever had.  Meanwhile, Amy was smitten with her Lemon & Olive Oil Cake, especially the vibrant and flavorful Blood Orange Sauce and the Sorbet which had a flavor we couldn’t place which turned out to be Fig!

We left the restaurant feeling full and happy but not overstuffed, yet a little bit sad that it will likely be a long time before we get to dine at Natural Selection again!

I’d love to hear from you!

Have you ever had Romesco Sauce before?

Settle our tie – which dessert sounds better to you?