Portobello Vegan Trattoria in Portland

portobello veganYou know when you show up to a restaurant on a Thursday night, and there’s a line out the door?  You check in at the host’s table, and they hand you one of those light-up buzzers to let you know when your table will be ready?  Those are things that don’t happen much at the restaurants I typically frequent.  In my town, I could walk into any vegan-friendly establishment, even on a Friday night, and not have to worry about a wait.  With a few notable exceptions, even many vegan restaurants in Los Angeles, which are obviously in a more population-dense area, usually don’t require reservations made far in advance or with a prohibitively long wait on a weekend night.

Enter Portobello Vegan Trattoria in Portland, Oregon.  Portobello had been off my radar until I read Kittee’s review of things to do in Portland, where she offered that people should make reservations weeks in advance for this upscale, all-vegan restaurant.  (Or they should arrive with the expectation of a lengthy, multiple hour-long wait.)  I didn’t notice that comment until the day that I wanted to go, but luckily I checked out their online reservation system early in the morning.  (That’s one benefit to still being on Central Time and waking up crazy early!)  There were two slots left – 5:45 or 9 pm.  I opted for the earlier slot, and eagerly awaited our dinner for two.  (I’m glad I took Kittee’s advice and made reservations!  That night many couples were turned away at the door.)

David and I arrived at Portobello and began poring over their menu.  Too many options.  It was one of those places where I immediately wished that I never had to get full.  Do you ever have that dream?  I sometimes wish I could stockpile amazing meals and comp them for those days when I have no time to eat and need to rush out the door.  Sadly, the technology required hasn’t been invented yet, and so I knew I had to narrow down my choices.

sweety pepsTo start, we ordered the Sweety Peps.  We were expecting something in the jalapeno popper camp like my own cashew cheese-stuffed poppers.  Instead, these were served cold with fresh and slightly crunchy peppers that were sweet as the name implies and filled with a dense cashew cream that had a whipped consistency almost like ice cream.  The cashew cheese had a mild, cheesy flavor of nutritional yeast that didn’t overwhelm the peppers.

lemon drop it like it's hotTo wash them down, I ordered a spicy cocktail called Lemon Drop It Like It’s Hot, which is made like a classic Lemon Drop but with chile vodka.  With a name like that, who could refuse it?  Well…  I think of jalapeno peppers and hot sauce as toppings that improve almost any meal from a morning tofu scramble to a late night snack of popcorn.  So I thought I could handle any heat the cocktail could provide.

I was wrong.  One sip took my breath away.  David saw the surprised look on my face as the cocktail burned all the way down my throat.  He tried a sip for himself and exclaimed, “Whoa!”  I took a couple more tastes, hoping that if I cleared the chile powder and sugar from around the rim, I could handle the remaining drink, but the chile vodka was still just too strong for me.  I hate to ask to change drinks, but there was really no way I could finish it.  Luckily the server was incredibly nice about it (and terrifically friendly all around), and she didn’t seem to mind switching it out.  Later in the night, I overheard her warn another restaurant-goer that the drink was very much on the spicy side.

Salty FogIn its place I had the Salty Fog made with grapefruit and lemon juices, elderflower syrup, sea salt, and gin.  It was a mouth-puckering combination of salty and sour and delicious to the last gulp.

The menu at Portobello is seasonal, currently focused on the best of spring.  I had the toughest time deciding between their thinly sliced potato pizza, spring gnocchi, or cauliflower steak.  Ultimately, I decided that since pizza and gnocchi are things I make at home, cauliflower steak would win out.  (Later I saw another table get that pizza, though, and had some major dinner envy.  It looked amazing.)

cauliflower steakThe crisp cauliflower steak was topped with fennel and a generous drizzling of red sauce and chimichurri sauce.  A thing of beauty, the blended parsley & garlic sauce complemented the neutral flavors of cauliflower delightfully.  I’m not always a fan of fennel, but this dish totally won me over.  It was crisp in some parts and melt in your mouth smooth in others.  To me, it made the dish.

IMG_1483-001Wanting to save some room for dessert, David had a small portion of the English pea & morel mushroom ravioli in a creamy white sauce.  The pillowy ravioli was not overly heavily and topped with fresh mint.  David said the smaller portion was the perfect fit for a multi-course meal.

strawberry rhubarb tartFor dessert, we split the strawberry rhubarb tart, which is on a puff pastry-style crust.   The light and flaky pastry was topped with the sour and sweet fruity mixture and a dollop of ice cream.  Vegan caramel sauce is hard to come by, and so David couldn’t resist ordering it on the side.  Ultimately it was poured all over the cool vanilla ice cream in increasingly generous amounts.

If I lived in Portland, Portobello would definitely be on my list for special occasions.  As much as I enjoy casual vegan restaurants, there’s something pretty special about the white cloth napkin experience every now and again, especially for birthdays and anniversaries.  And luckily, Portobello is worth the wait.


  1. says

    oh gosh. if this posts twice, it’s because my first comment got eaten by the internet. so glad you got to go! i checked their reservation page recently and didn’t see any open spots for dinner for two weeks!! i love those sweety peps and am also a huge fan of their beet tartare.

    so glad we were finally able to meet!

    • says

      I’m glad that their business is thriving! That’s so much better than visiting a restaurant you like and finding it empty most of the time. It makes me worry that they won’t be around for long. It’s much better that Portobello is doing gangbusters business. It means they’re doing something right! :)

      I’m so glad we were finally able to meet too! What a marvelous weekend!

  2. says

    I wish I’d had time for a meal from Portobello! But after waiting an hour and a half for a table at Blossoming Lotus on my first night there, I figured it’d be impossible to get a table at Portobello. Everything looks amazing! Next time, next time. I also wish I could have talked to you more! It was great meeting you!!!

    • says

      Wow, that’s a long wait at Blossoming Lotus! We went there after the meet and greet at White Owl, but luckily, we only had to wait about a half an hour.

      Yes, it’s too bad we didn’t get more of a chance to talk! There was so much happening. It really was a whirlwind. Next time! :)

    • says

      Portland made it tough to go back to cooking for myself again! It’s nice to have someone else bringing gourmet meals to your table!

  3. says

    It was so lovely meeting you this weekend, Cadry! When Nicole, Angela, and Lisa and I went to Portobello on Friday night, I remembered what you’d said about the peppers being cold, and kinda “steered” our table to ordering the beet tartare instead. Lisa and I shared the cauliflower steak and pea ravioli, too, and dear heavens! The amazingness! The amazingness! Why can’t we all have a Portobello in our hometowns?! 😛

    • says

      It was so lovely meeting you too! The conference was a rush of feel good people and energy! :) I’m glad that you enjoyed your dinner at Portobello!

  4. says

    We tried and failed to get a reservation for 10 and I didn’t think to try again for two. I’m glad you got to eat there even though I missed out this trip. The peppers look so seductive! I have to return to Portland again soon because there were too many things I missed on this trip including Homegrown Smoker and Native Bowl!

    • says

      I missed Native Bowl too! It was pretty high-up on my to do list, because I adore Julie Hasson’s book, Vegan Diner, so much. The first time we went to that food truck area, I got a meal from Homegrown Smoker, assuming we’d go back again. We did go back, but Native Bowl was closed that time. I didn’t realize that they close at four, unlike the Homegrown Smoker, which stays open later. I can’t believe I missed it, but I’ll definitely go back to Portland another time. Even though we were there for six days, there was so much that we weren’t able to see and do.

  5. says

    i want to fly into portland just to try that cauliflower steak! i love fennel and everything just sounds perfect! also, super nice that the server let you exchange drinks.

    • says

      Yes, I was relieved when she swapped out the drink without complaint. After spending $9 on a drink, I would hate for it to go to waste!

  6. BurbankVegan says

    The Internet ate my post, too. I suggested that you figure out how to make the cauliflower dish and post it to your blog!

    • says

      I had a problem leaving a reply earlier too! Someone needs to talk to my tech person. Oh, wait. That’s me. Darn.

      Good idea on trying a remake of the cauliflower dish! I’ll put on my thinking cap!

    • says

      I overheard the staff say that they were even busier than usual because Vida Vegan Con was in town. I was surprised that reservations there would require so much forethought but always glad to see vegan businesses thriving!

  7. says

    yup. that happens some days at Plum Bistro in Seattle. :) i think i had a thai chili infused vodka once loong long ago and both me and hubbs somehow finished it. it was like a spice addiction. u cry and u drink and u cry.:)

    • says

      Oh, Plum Bistro didn’t exist the last time we were in Seattle. I definitely want to go! Next time I’ll remember your tip – more crying! :)

  8. says

    Portobello Vegan Trattoria sounds like a place that’s prime for expansion! It’s great they’re so popular, but a shame they’re having to turn so many people away! Of course, you wonder if they doubled the size of their seating if they’d still be able to offer the kinds (and quality) of dishes they do. Maybe they just need a second location – in Sheridan, WY thank you very much. :-)

    I love your idea about stockpiling and comping great food! Definitely should patent that, once you come up with how to make it work (I guess just ordering tons of “to go” bags isn’t really the answer)…

    Who on earth invented that sadistic chili vodka beverage? I wonder how BW would handle it, he loves the wicked hot stuff even though it gives him the hiccups! I’m glad a Salty Frog was there to put out the fire for you.

    Both your meals sound delectably divine – food of the vegan gods and goddesses. And how I love the combination of strawberries and rhubarb! (When I was 14 I and a young woman named Sandy got to help the judge in the produce booth at Montana’s Hill County Fair – our grandmothers were on the fair board, bless those family connections – and we ended up putting a blue ribbon on an empty jam jar because we couldn’t stop “sampling” the winning strawberry-rhubarb jam within!) :-)

    Given how rare a thing an open reservation is on such short notice, you were clearly destined to enjoy this wonderful treat! Thanks for sharing it with the rest of us hoi polloi. LOL

    • says

      That’s a very interesting point about them opening a second location in Sheridan, Wyoming. I’ll pass your suggestion on to them with one of my own! 😉

  9. says

    Yet another vegan place we weren’t able to cram in. There’s just sooo many Portland eats and only so much stomach space. I should have gone just for that strawberry tart though.

    • says

      No kidding! I’ve been seeing so many pictures from other bloggers and realizing how many treats I missed. Portland is blessed with options!

    • says

      I can only hope you were somewhere else in Portland that night eating something equally delicious!

      Sad news! Did you see that Matt Smith is leaving Doctor Who? I was hoping we would at least have him for another year, but he’s leaving after the Christmas special. :(

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