Almost a year ago, Jud and I headed to Portland for a quick weekend of vegan food tourism with my sister and her boyfriend. We ate and discovered so much it took two posts to report on!
This weekend we returned, putting our bikes on the Amtrak Cascades train for a car-free trip that took advantage of this ongoing beautiful weather–and gave us a hand in working off some of the food we shoved into our mouths for another 24-hour whirlwind. Although it might seem odd to have skipped VegFest, which was happening while we were there, it would have been the third such festival Jud and I would have attended in less than a year–and we’re not much on crowds. So we focused instead on enjoying a handful of businesses and the beautiful sunshine!
We started with a delicious lunch at Blossoming Lotus. I won’t go into a lot of detail and will just say that this is one of my favorite, most consistently good restaurants anywhere. The menu is a mix of raw and cooked items (all vegan, with several gluten-free options) prepared in fresh, creative combinations. The atmosphere is pleasant and would be very nice for a special date but also works for a casual drop-in while wearing bike-friendly clothing, and the prices are quite reasonable for the quality of food and ambience. There’s a Sunday brunch I’d love to try sometime.
Fruit and cheese plate, with house-made nut-based cheese spreads
BBQ soy curl sandwich with whiskey BBQ sauce
Tempeh with a coconutty red curry sauce and yams
Raw falafel wraps. I was alone in thinking they didn’t taste that much like falafel, but we all agreed they were very good.
My sister also grabbed a gluten-free brownie to go, which we tried later. Yowza. Super, super good. Fudgy without being stodgy, and plenty of chocolate intensity.
There was a bit of time left before the Portland Farmers Market at PSU closed, so we headed over there and made a beeline for Petunia’s Pies and Pastries (Note: the website automatically plays music when you load it–don’t jump!). I’d read about this all-vegan, all-gluten-free bakery business on Facebook and heard my sister’s enthusiastic reviews, but I hadn’t yet tried any of the treats.
Now I have, and I can tell you with authority that you should find your way to some of these products just as soon as your legs will carry you (regardless of whether or not you can eat gluten). Check out this case:
So many difficult choices! Fortunately, Lisa, the owner, was on hand to help me narrow things down, but it was still a struggle.
Those would be s’mores cupcakes, with graham-cracker bases, chocolate cake, marshmallow frosting, chocolate ganache and more cracker crumbs. Tragically, I did not sample. But Maren did and gave full approval.
Fluffernutter cupcakes. Seriously. I also summoned the courage to pass on these since I knew they wouldn’t travel well in a pannier.
My spoils: Olive-oil orange bundt cake, Almond Joy pie, and a chocolate-covered peanut-butter crispy treat bar. Amazing, every one.
I also tried a bite of the pumpkin-chocolate-chip whoopie pie. Perfection. If you like any one of those things, even if you don’t like the others, you want one of these pies. And today, I lucked out and found more Petunia’s products at a Stumptown coffee, allowing me to try one of the mint-chocolate brownies I’d reluctantly left behind yesterday. Again, spot on:
I might guess that this was gluten free, but I absolutely wouldn’t care. Definitely up there with the best brownies I’ve had.
Petunia’s is scheduled to open a storefront in January, which will make it easier to get a hold of these wonderful treats. I will insist on a stop the next time I’m in town!
It was time to take a break from eating for a while, so we hit Powell’s, took a ride on the brand-new Eastside Streetcar and checked out the grand opening of the Oregon Rail Heritage Center. We still weren’t hungry, so we threw in a little more biking and a short walk before settling in for dinner at Canteen, the relatively new storefront run by the owners of the Sip juice cart. Canteen is a small, casual place, with about as much seating outside as in. The inside part smells wonderful from the fresh juices being prepared behind the counter, but we went for the bowls that make up the bulk of their menu.
The Portland Bowl, with quinoa, maple tempeh (or sub Soy Curls), delicious yeasty sauce and hazelnuts. I loved the bite I had and would be glad to get my own another time.
The Bangkok Bowl: brown rice, adzuki beans, steamed vegetables and kimchi, with peanut sauce. Very good, if maybe a little too similar to the lunch I’d had.
Walnut taco salad. OMG. Maren alerted us that someone needed to get this, and she was so right. Next time, this is what I’m ordering. You can see how bright and fresh it is, and the flavors were wonderfully balanced.
I wish there were more restaurants that served food like this: nutritious food, simply prepared in delicious combinations. Grain (usually) + legume + vegetables + fabulous sauce. In a reasonable portion and for a reasonable price. Why is this so rare to find in restaurants? If this business were anywhere in Seattle I would be there all the time.
Brunch today was at Portobello. For the most part, I love Portobello as much as the next food-lovin’ vegan northwesterner. Maybe because it does so much so well, I found a few nits to pick, but we did have another fantastic meal there.
We were pleasantly surprised to beat the line by getting there when they opened (beating a breakfast line is no small feat in Portland, and our last brunch at Portobello involved a little more competition), but for the second time were perplexed at how long it took to get seated with no obvious reason for delays. Once we sat down, the service was just fine, but going two for two on being left to stand around with little acknowledgement was a bit obnoxious.
Still, we were in for lots of good food:
Cashew-cheese-filled “Sweety Pepps,” which were a surprise hit.
Jud got the “Vegan Benedict,” which was easily the best version of several I’ve tried. The Hollandaise had a faint almond flavor to it, which was an interesting surprise, and the “housemade smoky seitan ham” was outstanding.
Brian got the blueberry waffle. I overload quickly on sweet dishes at breakfast and therefore don’t tend to order them, but the bite I had was delicious.
I ordered the “Wild Cascadia” omelet, which I liked but don’t know that I’d order again. In hindsight, I’m not sure they included the cashew cheese sauce it was supposed to come with, which could have made a difference. The chanterelles and slightly cooked heirloom tomatoes were a nice reflection of the shifting seasons, though.
Maren got the current incarnation of the savory waffle. The one I ordered last time, I declared–and still believe to be–one of the best dishes I’ve ever had, period. I only tried one bite of this one, so I can’t say whether it still reached that high, but it was excellent, and I’d urge you to try it if you you find it on the brunch menu. It’s gluten free, to boot!
Mushroom homefries, with lots of parsley pesto, were another big hit with all of us.
After twice trying both the mimosa and the bloody Mary on their menu, I’d encourage you to stick with the mimosa. It’s very well done, and has some nuances of flavor that don’t show up in most mimosas. The bloody Marys, somewhat surprisingly, are the opposite: the one last year was made with tasty, raw, heirloom tomato juice and came with a pickled green bean and wedge of lemon, though its spicing was really underwhelming, and some more fresh or pickled vegetables would have been welcome. Today’s drink, with standard, heat-processed tomato juice, was oddly ordinary and bland, and came with no “salad” at all–just a lone slice of lime. Given the skill and attention to detail evidenced in the rest of their menu, I’m not sure why this one drink seems to slip through the cracks, but it certainly needn’t get in the way of a great meal.
This afternoon, I squeezed in one last purchase at Stumptown, which I enjoyed on the train:
This cookie had some of the unfortunate crumbliness that’s hard to avoid in gluten-free baking, but it was very tasty and among the best gluten-free cookies I’ve tried. For those who love Skydottir cookies in Seattle, you should definitely look for these when in Portland.
All in all, another fantastic trip! The bike-train combo worked pretty much exactly as planned (be sure to reserve a bike spot well in advance if you do this, since there are only six spots available per train), and we got home to Seattle in time for dinner. Next time I hope to plan far enough in advance to get dinner reservations at Natural Selection or Portobello, which have now twice eluded me in each place.
For those of you who went to VegFest, what did I miss?