The last time I visited Portland, I left with fond memories of one of Portland's nicer vegan restaurants, Portobello Vegan Trattoria. So it was on the top of my list of restaurants to hit for dinner on this trip.
My friends and I arrived around 7:30 p.m. on a Friday night with reservations for four and were promptly seated. It is a small restaurant with a fairly simple decor featuring local artists' works on the walls. We all started with some drinks. With it being my first day in Portland, I felt it appropriate to start with a Pinot Noir from Willamette Valley so I went with the only one you could buy by the glass on the menu -- Tyee from 2009. It was very good, but highly priced at $14 per glass. My friends ordered some cocktails.
We started with a couple of appetizers. Out of all the things we ate for dinner, I think the best tasting item was the Beet Tartare appetizer. It was made of cashew cheese topped with chopped roasted beets tossed with carrot aioli and capers served with olive oil and garnished with chopped parsley. It was thick, creamy, and deliciously satisfying on the sliced baguette. And did I mention how beautiful it looked?! I think I ate like four slices of baguettes generously topped with this tartare.
We also ordered the Asparagus Fries, which were coated in tempura. Everyone loved these although I found them to be quite oily. I guess I'm just not a big fan of fried food. I did love the cashew-based sauce they were served with though.
The seasonal menu of entrees is quite short with only two burgers, six plates, and several pizzas to choose from. Still, I had a hard time deciding what to order. Ultimately, I went with the English Pea Ravioli with Morels only because morel mushrooms are my favorite and I love fresh pasta. It is difficult to get fresh vegan pasta, especially ravioli, because most restaurants use eggs and/or dairy in the preparation of pastas so I was particularly excited. When I tried the ravioli, I thought it was quite good, but not as mind-blowing as I had expected it to be. The ravioli was stuffed with peas, shallots, and mint and served with morel and cremini mushrooms in a light sauce with mint. It had a bit too much mint for me that I didn't think went well with this dish.
I ended up switching dishes with one of my friends and finishing his instead. He ordered the Gnocchi with Spring Vegetables. These handmade potato dumplings were sauteed with snap peas and asparagus and served with a parsley pistou. This dish was quite good.
Another friend of mine ordered the Portobello Burger. This burger was actually a roasted portobello cap served with greens and a red marinara sauce with cashew cheese. It was fine, but I didn't find it to be anything special.
My other friend ordered the Portobello Roast, which sounded kind of boring, but turned out to be very good. The sundried tomato polenta was cooked into a patty and served with slices of roasted portobello and sauteed greens with a roasted garlic cashew cream sauce. I really enjoyed trying this dish.
By dessert time, we were all glad we had ordered the smaller portions of each dish because we had to try the desserts. And we went a bit out of control by ordering three desserts. Hey - we were on vacation - no judging.
We started by trying their famous tiramisu -- a dessert nearly impossible to find vegan. This dessert made with housemade lady fingers soaked in coffee, Marsala-spiked vegan mascarpone cheese, dark chocolate, and a dusting of cocoa was very satisfying though not as good as I had remembered. The cake layers were soft and the cheese was a nice texture, but it really didn't blow me away the way that I had remembered.
Next, we had the Hot Fudge Sundae, which was amazing. It was made with coconut milk-based salted caramel ice cream and topped with toasted pine nuts, chocolate syrup, caramel, and vegan whipped cream.
But, most amazing of all was the Chocolate Caramel Bomb. This mousse-filled chocolate shell was topped with the same caramel and chocolate sauce as the sundae and with a praline sauce made in house. It's a party and an explosion in your mouth all at the same time.
All in all, I'd say my experience at Portobello Vegan Trattoria was a very good one. Of all the dishes, the beet tartare, gnocchi with spring vegetables, and chocolate caramel bomb were my favorites. At only $12-$14 per entree, the meal was a bargain. And the service was great. In the end, I think I just set my expectations way too high and was a bit disappointed. The food is very good, but this is not a 5-star restaurant. If you are looking for a great take on Italian entrees with a vegan twist, you have come to the right place. It isn't fine, upscale dining, but they do serve great food.
Portobello Vegan Trattoria
1125 SE Division Street
Portland, OR 97202