Best Restaurants 2016: Vegan Nirvana

Portland’s Best Plant-Based, Genuinely Fancy Restaurant: Farm Spirit

At his stylish Buckman spot, gung-ho vegetable lover Aaron Adams declares his own farm-powered city-state.

By Kelly Clarke October 10, 2016 Published in the November 2016 issue of Portland Monthly

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Aaron Adams plates an early course from one of his veggie-loving feasts

After finishing dinner at Farm Spirit, some diners cry. Others hug the staff. A few tourists have offered to let chef-owner Aaron Adams stay with them if he’s ever in their town. The small, stylish Buckman restaurant, which began serving its vegan tasting menus in June 2015, provokes strong sentiments. “I’m like a junkie ... hooked on getting people to emote and feel good,” says Adams, who also serves as master of ceremonies.

It’s all a little much, to be sure. (“Tonight I became a believer and my God is Aaron Adams,” declared one Google reviewer.) But, perhaps, understandable. After all, Farm Spirit is one of the few fancy restaurants in the country to treat a strict plant-based dietary regime as the key to a living treasure trove rather than a restriction.

The self-assured spot boasts whimsical modernist platings and grand, self-imposed sourcing limits. (Nearly everything on the menu comes from less than 100 miles away.) Sit at Adams’s long chef’s counter, and his pure devotion to local fruits and vegetables shines. Carrots cook sous vide in their own sweet juices before getting seared black in cast iron, like steaks. Skinned, dehydrated tomatoes masquerade as strawberries, each a one-bite burst of late-summer salty sweetness. Plates arrive dressed with weird, wonderful cultured seed sauces and an herbalist’s almanac of flowers and leaves. One dish holds the lilting sense memory of sitting in a grassy field as a kid; another tastes like clarified pond scum, little rounds of Swiss chard standing in for lily pads. All from a man as likely to recount his intense “love at first sight” for chives at the farmers market as to high-five your fellow diners or sing, loudly. 

“This is our alternate version of a Cascadia ... where it never occurred to people to eat animals,” says Adams, who is equally inspired by local farmers as by the zero-BS ethos of the punk music that soundtracked his teen years. “Just being vegan isn’t enough.”

Indeed, it’s not anymore. And Farm Spirit isn’t just “great for a vegan restaurant.” It’s great. Period. 

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