I have heard good things about Portobello, and their gluten-free pizza has been suggested to me on more than one occasion. The other night, I happened to be in the neighborhood, so I stopped by to check out this famous pizza I'd been hearing so much about. For those of you who have never heard of Portobello, it's a small vegan restaurant in southeast Portland (located at 12th and Division) with a cool, energetic vibe.
I have been a part of the restaurant industry for twenty years, as a server, bartender, prep cook, chef's wife, and food writer. I am regularly spoiled by the amazing cuisine of talented chefs, such as Jason French of Ned Ludd, David Padberg of Park Kitchen, Troy MacLarty of Bollywood Theater, Aaron Woo of Natural Selection (also vegan/vegetarian with gluten-free options), and the list goes on and on. I say this because I am about to give a very lukewarm review. My friends, however, have recommended Portobello to me on more than one occasion, so it's obvious they have enjoyed the food. Maybe you will too.
That being said, the down-side to Portobello for gluten-free diners is that the kitchen uses a lot of portobello mushrooms in its gluten-free entrees, and even though the name of the restaurant is Portobello, I am concerned about the overuse of mushrooms in the gluten-free options, especially in dishes I can cook at home. For example, there are mushrooms in the gluten-free pizza, shown above. The gluten-free, vegan burger is a roasted portobello mushroom. And the mushroom steak and olive oil mashed potatoes is also gluten-free. The menu lists one gluten-free entree that does not name mushrooms in the recipe, the Artichoke Arancini. The next time I eat there, I plan to get that dish.
I like variety. And for those of you who are gluten-free, who also like variety, I think you should know that you are likely to choose between mushroom dishes on the menu. If you can eat gluten, it seems you have a lot more choices.
The thing is, I think Portobello has a lot of potential, but its pizza? Well, I was not impressed. My main issue is that it didn't taste remotely like a pizza. The filling was made of a sweet, chunky tomato sauce, which was nice, but it had no seasoning. I tasted no oregano, and other than the few slivers of fresh basil on top as a garnish, I tasted no basil either. The cashew cheese was sweet, and it tasted like it was spiced with nutmeg, which means it tastes nothing like cheese. The outer ring of the crust was crisp and chewy, which was rather nice, but the bottom layer was really thin and soggy. In my opinion, the pizza was more like a hybrid polenta cake and lasagna than an actual pizza.
Don't get me wrong, the gluten-free pizza has a lot of potential. It just needs more herbs and spices in the sauce in order to be reminiscent of pizza. And it would be nice if the cashew cheese were savory instead of sweet. I couldn't help but think that cumin would be a better choice over nutmeg. If they intend to keep the gluten-free pizza as is, they might want to consider calling it something else to keep from disappointing gluten-free guests who are actually expecting pizza.
Aside from my disappointment in the pizza, I thought the arugula salad was really great. The leaves were tender and crunchy, and they were lightly dressed in olive oil and salt, and maybe a touch of lemon juice. The light dress on the salad was perfect, as the leaves themselves were so lovely that they didn't need anything else.
Here's a plus: Portobello offers very cheap pours of Badger Mountain's red and a white sulfite-free wines by the glass or carafe. The red wasn't very impressive for me, but I can tell that other people will like it. I thought it was thin, dry, and a little harsh.
To my surprise, the white was refreshing, slightly viscous with hints of pear, grapefruit, and apricot. The finish kind of reminded me of fruit cocktail. I decided to forego the glass of red and order a second glass of white instead.
If sulfite-free wine doesn't do it for you, Portobello has a nice wine list, a house cocktail menu, and a full bar.
Well, that's all for now, folks. Next week I am heading down to the Saturday Portland Farmer's Market to hunt for allergy friendly goodies. Can't wait to tell you all about them!
As always, my friends. Be well, and enjoy Eating Friendly.