Portobello: Vegan Italian Fine Dining in a Coffee Shop!14
If somebody would have told me that some of the best Italian food I’d ever eat would be both vegan and served in a coffee shop, I’d have thought they were nuts. Fact is, Portobello in Portland has some of the most scrumptious Italian food anywhere, is entirely vegan and somehow transforms a space that is a coffee shop by day into an intimate and upscale Italian Trattoria of the highest order by night.
The only advice you need before a visit is to call ahead and ensure you have a reservation. The tiny restaurant seats very few people, fills up almost as soon as it opens and stays full until it closes. So what’s the big deal? Why so popular? Simple answer: THE FOOD.
Portobello’s compact menu (just twelve dishes on the evening we went there) is clearly focussed on doing a few things right rather than trying to be all things to all people. What the menu lacks in choice it certainly makes up for in diversity, freshness and portion sizes (many dishes are available in a half order so you can share and sample as much as you like). With the smiliest, friendliest service you’ll find, a great vegan wine selection and rich vegan deserts you are in for a throughly pleasurable evening.
The menu is split into two main sections: “To Share” – appetizers and finger food that you can distribute around your table and “To Hoard”, aptly named because the main dishes are so good you’ll want to keep them all for yourself.
To start with we ordered the “Little T Slab with Olive Oil”. As it had the word “Little” in its name and was only $3.50 we figured we’d need something else as well, so we decided to get the “Artichoke-Mushroom Crostata”. Only when a huge amount of food arrived at our table did we find out that “Little T” was the name of the bakery that baked the amazing Focaccia, and not an indicator of the size of the bread portion being anything BUT little! Also, the Crostata (soft pastry cup filled to the brim with spicy mushrooms, artichokes and creamy sauce) was more than big enough to share.
Along with the food we ordered a bottle of wine from a small independent winery called Hip Chicks Do Wine. I can’t vouch for their hipness, but I CAN vouch for the fact that they Do Wine really well. The ’06 Cabernet we ordered was incredibly tasty and the perfect compliment for the wonderful food we were about to eat.
For the main course we spent a good deal of time debating what order, as everything on the menu looked so amazing. In the end, after two hearty appetizers and an anticipation of desert looming, we opted to go for two half orders: the Portobello Steak with Polenta and the Potato Gnocchi with Spicy Ragu. We were throughly blown away with the taste and texture of both dishes. Portobello and Polenta are individually terribly difficult to prepare, and uniting them in one dish did, I’m sure, present a major challenge to the chef, who clearly knows what he or she is doing. The greens were just this side of crunchy and the red wine sauce was a perfect balance of tangy and smooth. What an amazing dish this was.
Another challenging Italian dish to prepare is gnocchi, especially large pieces as with this dish. I don’t know how this was cooked, but the gnocchi was slightly crispy on the outside, soft and steamy on the inside. The ragu was heavenly – again no idea what was in there, but a deep tomatoey spiciness delivered the perfect compliment to the starchy gnocchi.
Did somebody say desert? We’d heard that the deserts at Portobello were excellent, so we ordered the Tiramisu — always my favorite Italian desert as a vegetarian. In common with everything else we’d eaten the tiramisu was excellent. Soft and sweet with an impeccably creamy texture and smooth brandy-infused spongy cake makes this the best vegan tiramisu I’ve eaten, and I’m becoming quite a connoisseur, I think!
We ended the evening replete with some of the best Italian food we’d ever eaten and are counting the days to until our next visit to Portland so we can rush back to Portobello for a Liitle T, some Hip Chicks and Tiramisu. YUM!
Finally, I’ve heard that Portobello has a habit of running out of certain food items later in the evening. I guess there’s only so much Gnocci you can make in the kitchen of a coffee shop. If you have your heart set on a particular menu item, get an early reservation so you can be sure to get what you want.
PortobelloTags: gnocchi, italian, pdx, portland
2001 SE 11th Avenue
Thanks a lot…I just short circuited my keyboard with drool!
I’ve heard such wonderful things about this restaurant! Someday soon, I need to take a trip to Portland…with the Quarrygirl guide to the city in hand. 🙂
It’s great, but absolutely make a reservation!!
Lucky Labrador is a few blocks away. A good spot to get a beer (or four) before or after eating at Portobello.
wow, i never would have thought portobello was some dinky coffee shop based on what i’ve heard about it. i thought it was some super ritzy restaurant.
that tiramisu looks delicious and i don’t even like tiramisu.
Portobello really is amazing. Nice review, quarrygirl, I think the hard working owners/chefs will love it. SJ
Everything looks soooo good! And maybe I’m just used to bay area prices, but it seems really cheap for the portions too!
The Tiramisu brought tears to my eyes when I ate it. Heavenly.
Thank you for the “Make a reservation” reminder. I’ll be heading over there in a few weeks 🙂 mmm
can we get one of those in la? i guess i’ll have to make the trip one day just for that food
I can’t wait to go there when I go back to Portland. Believe it or not, it was on the top of my list of places to go, therefore I waited (foolishly) until the night before I left to have dinner. Sure enough, it was way too late, and I didn’t know I needed a reservation. SO BUMMED. Your experience looks fantastic and the FOOD! Goodness gracious great balls of fire. I’ll probably eat there every week once I move there..
Just went here a few weeks ago and agreed with your review except for one part: smiliest and friendliest service? That was actually the ONLY reason I WOULDN’T go back, b/c the waitstaff was so aloof and dismissive. Glad to hear that the food is consistent but the attitude varies. Much preferred Blossoming Lotus Irvington.
the prices are really that low? wow , ill have to hit this place up when im up there in 18 days! im beyond stoked…….
I’m dying to go there, although portobellos & polenta are my lazy night meal, I find them quite easy to make!
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