Best New Restaurants 2019

Locavore Upstart Farm Spirit Has Evolved into a Legit Vegan Fine Dining Destination

There’s nothing else quite like it in America.

By Karen Brooks October 18, 2019 Published in the November 2019 issue of Portland Monthly

Scrawled notes from my first dinner at Farm Spirit back in 2015: “People’s Co-Op meets Noma.” “The deep end of weird, farm-driven food.” “Tastes like clarified pond scum.”

At least for this omnivore, the Buckman neighborhood restaurant, which gathered 14 ferment-loving souls around a chef’s counter for modernist vegan tasting menus, was a twee, tweezer-world amateur. But, lord have mercy, it was inspired. Buoyed by the big, jovial, “I’m a believer” personality of owner-chef Aaron Adams, Farm Spirit held its ground as not just Portland’s only fancy “foodie” adventure for plant eaters but also its most evangelical locavore acolyte, sourcing most ingredients within a 105-mile radius. 

Flash forward to 2019: Farm Spirit has evolved into a worthy food destination, with plates that measure up to its mission. The change follows a January move to a roomier space nearby. (The original location is now Adams’s Fermenter, a R&D lab with a daily prix fixe lunch menu.) The new, 28-seat dining room comes with a midcentury-meets-plant-shop vibe and a major kitchen addition: Portland newcomer and co-chef Scott Winegard, a longtime acolyte of global vegan futurist Matthew Kenney. Now, dinners unfold with confidence, sophistication, and visual excitement. Think chic “ceviche” of raw cactus and zucchini “cured” in cucumber juice, chamomile, and dried peppers or a soulful, charcoal-hued pasta right out of Ava Gene’s. Opt for an $89 dinner, or drop $109 for the four-seat chef’s counter experience, which includes an intimate window on the house philosophy.

Yes, I wish for more flavor range, a more aggressive herbal attack throughout the meal. But every night delivers a few impressive surprises, not to mention a stark reminder: Farm Spirit is one of the few vegan fine dining restaurants in America, and certainly the only one with such a fervent local/sustainable/low-carbon mission. Night after night, it’s pulling off light, healthy, ethically seasoned meals with one arm behind its back: no tropical cheats (coconut to chocolate), no beautiful Italian olive oils. You don’t have to be a convert to enjoy, or admire, the ride. 1403 SE Belmont St, 

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