We Tried Portland’s New “Kitchen Vessel” Delivery Service—Here’s What Happened

Did Terra’s Kitchen’s climate-controlled healthy meal kits make the grade?

By Katelyn Best December 11, 2015

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Spicy Southwest Steak Bowl from Terra's Kitchen.

Baltimore-based Terra’s Kitchen—“Terra” refers to the Earth, not a person—like its much-hyped competitor Blue Apron, is a meal delivery service offering customers the chance to whip up a homemade dinner in a half-hour or less, without the hassle of the grocery store. The company recently arrived in Portland, promising healthy, delicious meals made from fresh, local, non-GMO ingredients. Here’s how our test run went down:

1. Ordering

If I was being generous, I might describe the meal selection as “summery”; many options place grilled meat alongside a salad or simple vegetable dish. Choices like grilled chicken with watermelon-mint salad or strip steak with tomatoes, eggplant, and basil chimichurri will appeal to grill enthusiasts.

But almost everything is grilled chicken or steak, and even for hardcore carnivores, I have to imagine the menu could get old fast. As someone who doesn’t eat red meat and mostly goes vegetarian, my options were really limited—there are only 3 meat-free choices on the menu, two of which are pasta dishes with cherry tomatoes. If you have dietary restrictions, Terra’s Kitchen isn’t for you.

I chose spicy chicken with Mexican corn salad, pan roasted eggplant with penne, tomato, and basil, and vegetable fajitas, as well as two of their “grab and go” options: the veggie kale Caesar and the French tuna salad. Prices are, unsurprisingly, considerably higher than what you’d find at a grocery store: a single meal ranges from $12 to $17, with free delivery on orders of $125 or more.

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2. Delivery

Ingredients are delivered in a eco-friendly, climate-controlled “Vessel,” which, despite sounding vaguely like something from Battlestar Galactica, is basically a cooler with shelves. Everything arrives not only pre-portioned, but already chopped up, whenever possible. Obviously, this cuts down significantly on prep time.

Personally, I felt oddly let down at being deprived of the opportunity to chop onions and slice radishes. To me, prep work is part of what makes cooking a relaxing ritual, though I’m sure many folks appreciate having less work.

3. Cooking

Recipes are simple and easy to follow, and come with wine and beer pairing suggestions, which is a nice feature. However, there’s one thing that really threw me for a loop: every item on the menu relies entirely on the use of pre-made salad dressing (the website calls them “sauces”), in flavors ranging from Classic French to Southwest Ranch, for seasoning. It might be an accepted practice to marinate meat in salad dressing, but rather bizarrely, the veggie fajita recipe I tried instructs you to heat a packet of southwest ranch in a skillet and cook mushrooms and peppers in it. It worked…okay? But there are really no words to convey how wrong it feels to pretend salad dressing is cooking oil. 

4. Taste

Flavor-wise, the Southwest Ranch—which featured in both the chicken and the vegetable fajitas—imparts a quality I imagine some people would describe as “zesty.” Now, as with the fact that everything comes already prepped, the value of zestiness is obviously a subjective matter, and I’m sure lots of people find these meals delicious. But personally, everything reminded me vaguely of an Olive Garden salad. Nothing was exactly bad, it just all had a sort of processed quality that doesn’t resonate with the company’s branding.

The Takeaway

There are some bright spots here. The salads are good, and the produce is high-quality—the baby eggplants they sent were as beautiful as anything you’d find at a farmer’s market.

In fact, it’s these successes that leave me feeling like this is frustratingly close to being a service I might recommend. Full disclosure: after two nights of over-salted, no-effort dinners, I went rogue with the penne and simply cooked the veggies in olive oil, then added some herbs, garlic, salt and pepper, and chile flakes. It was the best thing I ate all week. Would it be so hard for them to swap the packet of salad dressing for a packet of oregano?

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