In Portland, tasting menus aren’t just for meat-eaters. Vegans enjoy them, too.

These chef-curated, small plate meals found at high-end, often meat-centric restaurants can be exciting sources of plant-based nosh, if you know where to look. Each restaurant serves something different, of course, but the tasting menus share an emphasis on seasonal produce and a desire to offer an extra-special dining experience.

The best-known vegan tasting menu in Portland is at Evo Kitchen + Bar in the Old Port, where the option has been listed on the restaurant’s website and printed on its menus since it opened in 2015.

“We do nightly vegan and vegetarian tasting menus,” said Evo’s Executive Chef Matt Ginn. “It’s eight savory plates and two sweet plates. You might receive two or three plates at a time that can be mixed and matched.”

Evo Kitchen + Bar served this tomato-avocado toast on challah with garlic scapes as the first course of a recent vegan tasting menu. Photo by Matt Ginn

Recent vegan dishes on Evo’s tasting menu include fritters made from local shishito peppers with summer squash, and kibbeh made with bulgur and squash. Ginn says all the restaurant’s tasting menus, vegan and non, “progressively change” day-by-day to reflect the availability of local vegetables and fruits.

“Today we’re changing a radish and turnip dish to more of a summer squash dish,” Ginn said when we spoke in July. He added that guests can expect elements of popular vegan dishes from Evo’s regular menu – such as chickpea fries or a dip made of pureed peas, mint and lemon – to appear on the tasting menu.

At Sur Lie on Free Street, where the kitchen gets frequent requests for vegan tasting menus, popular plant-based dishes from the regular menu — such as black-eyed peas escebeche or red dragon udon noodles — also show up on the vegan tasting menus.

“When we approach vegan food, our goal is to showcase the vegetable in its finest form,” said Emil Rivera, Sur Lie’s executive chef. “I’ve never been fond of animal protein look-alike dishes, but there are some exceptions, for example a falafel burger or jackfruit stew. The idea is to keep things delicious, interesting and as far from boring as possible.”

Some recent dishes he’s crafted for vegan tasting menus include Catalonian-style spinach, vegetable rossejat (which Rivera describes as “a Spanish dish similar to paella with noodles instead of rice’) and chakalaka (which Rivera explains is “a South African dish with beans, carrots and chilies”).

Evo and Sur Lie don’t need advance notice to create a vegan tasting menu, but other restaurants in Portland that offer vegan tasting menus do so by request, meaning you’ll need to call ahead.

Five Fifty-Five served this vegan beet salad with pomelo vinaigrette as the first course of a recent vegan tasting menu. Photo by Kolby Knight

Michelle Corry who owns Five Fifty-Five with her husband and head chef, Steve Corry, said the Arts District restaurant has offered vegan tasting menus by request “since we opened 16 years ago.” While neither the Five-Fifty Five menu nor website give any hint of this secret vegan option, she says the restaurant gets regular requests. When I spoke with Five-Fifty Five chef Kyle Robinson on a recent Monday, he told me he’d just done “a vegan tasting menu on Saturday night.”

That menu had five courses. It started with a pea and coconut soup; then a summer squash salad (both modified from the regular menu); followed by a bed of farro served with basil puree, roasted peppers and a summer squash and eggplant caponata; next a dish of roasted royal trumpet mushrooms served with green and yellow beans and roasted fingerling potatoes garnished with a mushroom reduction and a garlic scape pesto; and, finally, a trio of sorbets served with fresh fruit.

“The easiest way for us (to create a vegan tasting menu) is to look at our current tasting menu or a la carte menu items,” Robinson said. “I’ll talk with my sous chefs and line cooks and say, ‘What do you think of this?’ It’s a collaborative effort. It keeps it really fun and fresh to not be repetitive.”

Five-Fifty Five needs 24 hours notice to create a vegan tasting menu.

David’s Opus Ten in Monument Square used to offer a nightly vegan tasting menu, but after vegan chef Rocky Hunter’s departure (he’s now at Crown Jewel on Great Diamond Island), owner David Turin said the restaurant offers vegan tasting menus only by request, with a minimum of two days notice.

Around the corner on Spring Street, Lio opened a year ago and offers a couple vegan dishes on its regular menu. It also offers nightly tasting menus, yet Morgan LaCroix, Lio’s front-of-the-house manager, said they’ve never had anyone ask for a vegan tasting menu. If someone wanted it, she added, the chefs would “be able to accommodate with 48 hours notice.”

LaCroix also mentioned that pastry chef Kate Hamm always stocks vegan chocolate sorbet and “occasionally she’s done a chocolate tofu mousse.”

Vegan tasting menus in Portland typically cost $50 to $70 per person, with wine or other beverages extra.

At Evo, the entire table must order the tasting menu. “One of my favorite things,” Ginn said, is when a party of two comes in and the vegan diner persuades his or her reluctant companion to order the vegan tasting menu, “and by the end they’re like, ‘I can’t believe we just had a vegan tasting menu. It was so good.’ It happens all the time.”

Avery Yale Kamila is a freelance food writer who lives in Portland. She can be reached at

[email protected]

Twitter:AveryYaleKamila

 


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