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Guide for sophisticated vegetarian dining

Monthly Archives: October 2012

Natural Selection, a tiny restaurant in Portland’s hip and fun Alberta Street neighborhood, has beautiful botanical prints of vegetables on the walls. Reminder: a head of red cabbage is actually quite beautiful.

Vegetables are front and center at this restaurant. They’re on the side and on top, too.

There’s a prix fixe menu of four courses for $35. You have two choices for each course. It’s an astonishingly low price for this caliber of cooking and the sheer effort that goes into these plates.

The menu changes weekly, and everything was vegan and gluten-free the night we visited. Natural Selection isn’t strictly vegan, but they seem vegan-friendly.

Our first course dishes were a slightly bland sweet corn/parsnip soup with a pleasingly heavy texture, courtesy of the pureed lobster mushrooms. And roasted beets with pear.

I liked that the beets and pear were treated with a light hand – the pimenton and walnuts brought out the sweetness of the main ingredients.

Next up were two salads: figs and glacier lettuce and a more traditional heirloom tomato:

The fig and lettuce combination was light and refreshing. The dish benefited from that miracle ingredient, marcona almonds. (I recently had to tell a friend that they’re tasty because they’re fried, not because they’re “from Spain.” Sorry!)

Heirloom tomatoes don’t need much. In this dish, watermelon and balsamic brought sweetness and acidity to the tomatoes. The light topping of fried onions was a nice, crunchy surprise. Natural Selection’s focus on ingredients (and not on complicated sauces or new techniques) was most clear in this dish.

The evening’s only miss, a chanterelle and potato hash, was one of our third courses. No one at our table loved this heavy dish. We did like the hazelnut sauce that came with it.

Our second dish for course three was a summer squash risotto:

Made with white beans and lentils, it was the only dish of the night that had protein. The fried squash blossoms were delicious, perfect with the creamy risotto.

Dessert involved a winning fresh fruit crumble that was demolished in no time, and a slightly less popular (perhaps because it was less sweet) squash and pistachio cake.

I didn’t love everything I had at Natural Selection. But I’d happily come back for a reminder of just how glorious vegetables can be, when treated with a respectful hand.

This place is tiny, and reservations are pretty much essential. And since there are only two choices for every course, this is probably not the best spot for picky eaters. And I suspect that special requests to hold this or substitute that might lead to a chef marching over from the open kitchen to bop you on the head.




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