Peerless Portland

Two years seems like nothing on paper, in the bigger scheme of things, but can make all the difference in the world when applied to real life. So much had transpired since the inaugural Vida Vegan, changes that affected both the event and myself for the better. One could never have accused this mass vegan convergence of delivering anything less than the most anticipated long weekend of the year, and this latest chapter to the story proved only greater than the last. Despite all the fun, friends, and food, I found myself horribly preoccupied for that first round, stressed to the max by my speaking engagements and upcoming book release. Coming home with only a single photo of a dewy spiderweb on my memory card to show for it all, it wasn’t exactly a travel log to share about. The general situation may have been the same, frantically writing magazine articles on the plane, receiving a second pass of the edited manuscript in transit, and fretting to no end about my workshop, but somehow, those burdens didn’t weigh me down. Making a concerted effort to breathe occasionally and actually get a taste of Portland, the overall experience was so much more enjoyable than the first.

The one restaurant on my list that was an absolute “must visit” was Portobello Trattoria, which we hit first thing before the convention even began. Clearly overeager, we actually showed up about an hour early for our reservation, trudging through the rain a bit faster than anticipated. No matter, once the doors were open we were seated immediately and lavished with unforgettable eats in no time. Asparagus Fries failed to excite my interest on the menu, so it’s a good thing that my mom ventured to order the tempura-battered green stalks. They were hands-down the hit of the evening, ringing with umami flavor that seemed disproportionate to the tiny, slender spears. Served with a creamy cashew-based dip, the condiment truly gilded the lily; it was delicious, of course, but completely unnecessary. If I could go back and eat any one thing in Portland, it would be this simple appetizer.

On the other end of the asparagus spectrum, I glommed onto the listing of Asparagus Vichyssoise like there was no tomorrow, immediately attracted to the promise of a cool, refreshing starter. Topped with sauteed mushrooms, asparagus ribbons, and edible yellow flowers, it was every bit as lovely as it was tasty. Though the dominant flavor was potato rather than asparagus, it was still a wonderful appetizer, light enough to whet the appetite without being too filling.

As soon as the entrees were presented at the table with a modest flourish, I started snapping pictures of my mom’s dinner first, working quickly so that she could begin eating. Of course, it was only after she broke the delicate pasta shells in half with a swift slash of the fork that the English Pea Ravioli with Morels revealed their true beauty. Vivid green pea filling, accented with a light touch of mint, provided both visual and flavorful contrast to the creamy, umami-rich sauce. I almost regretted not ordering a plate for myself, at least until I had a bite of my own main course…

Portobello Roast is a tried-and-true classic vegan dish, but they’ve really done it justice at its namesake restaurant. Fanned out artfully atop a round of sun-dried tomato polenta and cashew-creamed greens, the mushroom itself was perfectly tender, retaining a satisfying bite and bold savory flavor. Unchallenging, uncomplicated, it was probably the safest bet on the menu, but even such a modest gamble payed off. After a long day of turbulent travel, it suited my uneasy stomach just right.

Another day, another dining destination. Portland is full to bursting with gourmet vegan picks, so how is one to choose the best meals within the span of just a few days? Well, a generous dinner invitation certainly helps. Accompanied by some high-powered vegan luminaries and bloggers, our group made quick work of just about the entire menu at Blossoming Lotus. Dining with friends means sampling more dishes, so we definitely covered a lot of ground, but on the downside, I don’t remember what everything was. The above drink was not mine, has been removed from the online menu, and I have no idea what it was. Darn. Nice eye candy though, right?

One of my favorite dishes arrived early on in the meal: The Artichoke Fritters, deceptively simple little snacks, were perfectly crisp and crunchy on the outside, with just the right amount of salt. Paired with a creamy lemon-caper dressing, even the leftover crumbs of coating were inhaled after a quick dip.

Despite the riot of dishes that arrived all at once, I was immediately drawn to the Chickpea Curry*. Though a bit hot and heavy for a late spring day, the cold weather made it an instant hit, soothing bites of sweet potato mingling with the beans in a lightly coconut-spiked stew. Gloriously green kale on top lightened it significantly, while the perfectly caramelized cauliflower balanced at the top of the heap effortlessly stole the show. If we hadn’t been sharing plates, I would have licked this one clean.

*Not it’s real name, since I once again neglected to take notes at the time and can’t find it on the menu now. This might just put me in the running for worst food blogger of the year.

My last hurrah, the final meal in Portland, was a decision made at the last minute, largely due to proximity and a rapidly rising hunger level. Located just a few steps away from our hotel, Veggie Grill turned out to be the sleeper hit of the trip. In fact, my mom was so taken with the concept that she began plotting out the best space for the next outpost to open up back at home. Her pick was the Crispy Chickn’ Plate, a comforting platter heaped high with steamed kale, mashed potatoes with gravy, and the aforementioned breaded cutlet. This is the kind of food that anyone can enjoy, hearty yet healthy at the same time.

My meal of Papa’s Portabello (Kale Style) with Side Salad was decidedly less photogenic, but exactly what what my cravings demanded. Piled so high with caramelized onions and pesto that the mushroom itself was obscured from view, the combination was entirely addictive. Though I took so long chatting with friends that helpful servers tried to clear away my dish twice, I guarded it jealously until every last bite was gone. The single clove of roasted garlic crowning the stack was a surprise treat- Paired with the naturally sweet caramelized onion, the combination was out of this world.

Although that barely scratches the surface of all the vegan delights that Portland has to offer, or that I was able to taste in such a short amount of time, it’s just a sampling of a few truly memorable meals. Besides, even this brief glance over the dining options must beat a single photo of a spiderweb, right? For more mouth-watering photos, check out my Portland, Oregon 2013 set on Flickr, with more pictures to be added as I find time to sift through them.

28 thoughts on “Peerless Portland

  1. Even your on-the-fly photos are a million times prettier than mine. I guess that’s why they pay you the big bucks, Hannah! :) But, seriously, you’re a true professional with an amazing talent. Thanks for sharing these gorgeous pics and memories.

  2. Hannah, I want to go to Portland now to eat! And as far as forgetting to take pictures or write down names, if that’s the worst thing you ever do, you’re in great shape!!

    Enjoy the weekend,


  3. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again…I’m kicking myself for not going this year!! I squandered an excellent opportunity to meet you and many other wonderful people who I know online and not in person. Sigh. Hopefully I won’t make the same mistake again, but 2015 seems so far away. Why can’t this be an annual gathering?

    The food all looks extraordinary and, if it’s at all tempting, there are Veggie Grills all over LA! While that’s the one place I would have probably turned down in favor of a local treat in Portland (but only because VG exists here; I truly love their food and wouldn’t turn it down here), rest assured that it would be on the list of places I’d take you if you were to come visit LA.

    1. It’s true, I did hesitate to visit Veggie Grill because it’s a chain, but there are no locations anywhere near me, so it was still an entirely new experience that I’m glad I tried. I would gladly visit any outpost with you, in LA or beyond! Here’s hoping that I can finally swing a semester on campus in SF, maybe for spring 2014… Not exactly LA, but much closer than we are now.

  4. Oh my…all the dishes look wonderful. I especially love the asparagus fries with the cashew dipping sauce. :) And the soup is just as beautiful. I’m marking this place down and hope that i”ll have a chance to visit Portland soon. Thank you so much for sharing.

  5. you make even veggie grill food look all gourmet and beautiful:)

    gosh all those goodies, asparagus fries! and artichoke fritters! yum. we now have 2 veggiegrills within 5 miles of home. even though i dont like the fake meat dishes, i end up replacing it with tempeh.. and they are a life saver when in need of quick food and also something to please the meat eaters.

    1. Ah, I’m so jealous! Love the fact that they’re so flexible about substitutions, too. I just know that everyone in my family would find something good to eat, which is really saying something because a few of us over here are rather picky eaters… ;) But it’s true, they’re not the most beautiful plates. Can’t have it all, I guess!

  6. Gorgeous photos! I didn’t make it to Portobello, but now I feel like I kinda have with your pics :-). Blossoming Lotus was definitely one of my favorites. I think we must have looked like fools eating there because with every bite we kept closing our eyes in ecstasy!

  7. Darling I am *so* glad you gave yourself the freedom and happiness of enjoying the conference more completely this time around! I wish I could have seen you more/dined with you, but it makes my heart happy that you got out and about with other (lucky) people. And remember: you blew everyone away with your mad skillz. So no stressing about your workshops next time, yeah? <3 xoxo

  8. My husband and I were just talking about how much we wanted to visit Portland…now I’m even more motivated! Thank you for sharing all these lovely dishes!

  9. I want to go to Portland and just eat for a week! It truly looks like a vegan’s paradise. I am so completely jealous of all the bloggers who went to Vida Vegan Con and are sharing their stories. Yum, yum, is all I have to say! Great recap Hannah, your photos are amazing as always.

  10. Wow you’re photos from Portobello Trattoria & Blossoming Lotus are amazing and to think, I ate mostly all of those dishes! I think they look as good here as they did then. Delicious flashbacks. It was such a treat to meet you at Vida Vegan Con and get to visit over a beautiful vegan dinner! :) Sharon

  11. Yummy, so many great dishes! I am always afraid that the only time I can get kale is winter… they don’t sell it year round here in Germany.
    I hope that one day I will be able to visit vida vegan con, too!

  12. All these photos are beautiful! (I always think photographing food in restaurants is tricky, so I’m impressed when they turn out so gorgeous). I’m glad you got to enjoy the conference more this time around, because I can definitely imagine how it could be stressful, as well. Still, it must be wonderful to experience such a huge vegan conference – I’m still seeing VVC recaps in my feed reader every day and it all sounds so fun and inspiring! (and delicious.)

    1. Now that you mention it, you’ve got me thinking of putting together a workshop on food photography in restaurants. I can’t claim that I’m always happy with my results or get studio-quality photos every outing, but I’ve seen a definite difference in the quality I’ve managed over the years. I just need a venue to teach it in… It would be so much fun to share!

      1. That sounds like a great workshop! I’d really like to hear your tips and experiences, and I think a lot of people are interested in improving their restaurant photography. Makes me wish I didn’t live so far away :) (but maybe you’ll share another recap on your blog, and I’d love to read that too!)

      2. This would be great. I’d sign up. Seems like a good suggestion for a class at Vida Vegan Con 2014 – special outing at a restaurant & hands-on photography lesson.

      3. Awesome! I’m so glad that it sounds like a good idea. I hadn’t even thought to pitch it for the next VVC, but you’re right, that would be the perfect time and place. Hopefully they want me as a speaker again..!

  13. I’m glad you were able to enjoy your trip even with being super-busy. Next time I’m in Portland I’ll have to try the Portobello Trattoria, all the entrees with special spring ingredients like morels and asparagus look delicious. I’m inspired to try to experiment with asparagus fries before they go out of season.

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