Portobello + Beermongers

An all veggie restaurant! Portobello is a vegan trattoria that offers food from the regions of Italy, Spain, and France. I had seen great reviews on Yelp, but going to a vegan restaurant also made me temper my expectations. Was it only so raved about because of the vegan adjective in front of it?

We had a great time though, and would visit again. The atmosphere was lovely, a combination of laid back and homey with the friendly openness of the servers in their casual dress and wildflowers in vases, yet a bit of fancy to feel like you are indeed dining out and it is going to be a nicer than an everyday meal, thanks to chandeliers and an interesting wall of wood with little artsy details scattered. I found a little owl in a corner particularly endearing.

 

Drink selection was full of creativity that perked a lot of interest for us. He settled for a mocktail called the "Ginger Rawgers" which was a mix of housemade kambucha called "herbucha" mixed with blueberry, ginger, and lime. We were also tempted by another mocktail called the "Red Scare" of beet, ginger, lemon, apple, and strawberry shrub. In terms of actual cocktails, the same dilemna. I ended up with "Lila's Limeade" with cherry-vanilla bean vodka, lime, and soda. Though I was tempted by the "Harper" with black pepper ginger vodka, strawberry puree, ginger, and prosecco. It was fun to see such a flirty and fun drink menu, they obviously put it together thoughtfully.

We started off with white truffle mushroom pate with accoutrements. This first appetizer didn't impress me- the pate just didn't have the soft almost buttery texture that spread and rich flavor that balanced the perfectly fine other accompaniments of fresh crusty bread and tarty cornichons. Using white truffle and mushroom I really expected more as mushrooms really can be rich. Next time I'll try the beet tartare.

For the first course, a half order of pan crisped polenta topped with a sweet and sour eggplant tomato ragout had a perfectly executed polenta that balanced the crisp exterior and creamy grit interior, and the ragout was very flavorful, a chunky sauce that gave you both the sweet and tart of tomato.

For the mains, the red wine braised seitan short rib with olive oil mashed potatoes, amaranth, lemon and fried garlic (we ordered a half portion) was more of a typical vegan dish (albeit excellent for being vegan) where it was clear that the seitan couldn't compare with real meat. But, the dish itself, if judged on its own and not as a short rib, was flavorful although texturewise all soft. It would have been a nice touch if the fried garlic has been more fried, adding some crispness. Look how meaty the seitan looks appearance wise though I missed the richness and tiny bit of gristle that real short rib would have had. As a vegan dish it was good- but the short rib adjective set the dish up to where it couldn't reach.

The "stravagante pollo falso", with gardein chick'n topped with thinly sliced daiya cheese and field roast mushroom loaf, herbs, and marsala wine jus (also a half portion pictured here!) was really outstanding. This was something that could definitely compete with a real chicken dish, and even trounce many normal implementations.

The "chicken" here, the gardein chick'n topped with the mushroom loaf, was the texture of if you had taken a chicken breast and pounded it to tenderness, and the mushroom loaf gave it a tinge of salty toughness on top almost like a skin. The cheese and the jus gave the whole dish a creamy richness almost like it had been cooked in chicken stock, and the entire dish was juicy. Throw in a starch and veggie onto the dish and you could believe it was up to par with any normal meat entree dish at any other restaurant… and the fact it beats the moistness level of most chicken dishes makes it even better. I wish it had come with olive oil mashed potatoes like the short rib dish or some sort of side to absorb those juices.

 

So my overall impression? Like any restaurant there are some hits and misses- but the misses aren't terrible, just didn't live up to full potential.  Sometimes vegan food can be very dry or limited in taste because they dial back not only the meat but also unhealthy components like fats that make food taste good (heh my opinion anyway), but Portobello doesn't suffer from this at all. It draws from ingredients that already pack a lot of flavor, and they buy it fresh. If you have a veggie or vegan dining companion, they will definitely enjoy this, "a night dining out" with all food done vegan- and the whole menu to choose from instead of just one or two choices and sometimes after verbal negotiation with the waiter/chef.  

If you are looking to replace a restaurant dining experience that offers meat on the menu with an evening at Portobello and do eat meat, go in looking for something that tastes good, but doesn't necessarily need to compare/replace meat. It would be like going to a French-Japanese restaurant and lamenting that the food isn't French enough even though the food is tasty. As a restaurant, Portobello gives you what it advertises- a trattoria experience, simple, casual, but good, but defined on its own terms. The flavors their dishes offers that seem simple are not simple at all because the flavors have been carefully constructed to parallell traditional dishes in a vegan way. Sometimes this makes it better then the traditional dish- and sometimes it just makes it a different kind of dish.

As for dessert? After being torn about the tiramisu, we passed (though we sorta wish we hadn't in retrospect). Beermongers is basically next door, so we stopped there for some interesting beer. Dogfish Head's Theobroma peaked our interest first since no Dogfish beer has been disliked. Theobroma ("food of the gods") is an ale brewed with honey, Aztec cocoa nibs, cocoa powder, ancho chilies and ground annato.  

We also tried two Mikkeller barrel aged Black Hole bottles- both were stouts brewed with coffee, honey, and vanilla. However, one was aged in rum barrels (giving it a smoky flavor), and another bottle had that same beer aged in red wine barrels (giving it more acid background). There are two other versions of this- aged in scotch peat whiskey barrels and aged in bourbon barrels- which unfortunately Beermongers didn't have anymore. What an awesome series though, and it was very cool to be doing vertical tasting with that same stout backdrop. 

All these beers gave us a little munchie craving, so we got a takeout Arrabiata pizza from Portobello. Beermongers doesn't serve any food, but they allow you to bring any food you want in. The Arrabiata had chile-fennel marinara, hot cherry peppers, "sausage" and daiya cheese. It's a thin crust, and we wish it just had a little more sauce. The sausage is cut into slices and spread, rather then crumbled I would have preferred to to spread that taste out all over and I could get that meaty burst in every bite.

This little corner at SE 12th and Division, with Portobello and Beermongers which both change their menu offerings per what is available and seasonally, certainly has some unusual tastebud offerings if you want to try exploring the definitions of traditional flavor profiles of food and going to whole new places in drink. 

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Comments

  1. Those beers look great! Will be on the lookout for them!

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