When you sit down to a meal at this sparse but charming veg-friendly restaurant in North Portland, and your waiter commences explaining the “bread, olive oil and salt bar menu,” you’ll quickly realize that Nutshell is no mere vegan slop house.
“Would you like house-made, 175-grain naan or pugliese or a ficelle baguette for your bread? We’ve got extra virgin olive oil from Chile, France, Italy, Spain or Portugal. And we also have 30 different finishing salts,” your server might divulge.
As if that weren’t sufficient proof that vegan food can be just as gourmet as the fare of carnivores, the extensive all-vegan menu of intriguing entrées, appetizers and desserts—inspired by cultures as far-flung as Italy, France, India and Israel—makes Nutshell’s culinary ambitions clear. From a simple salad of watermelon and red onion dotted with fresh mint to an affordable bowl of chilled potato and leek soup, or a plate of Yukon potato pancakes topped with sautéed forest mushrooms, kale and chives and served in a caraway cream sauce, the ingredients in Nutshell’s dishes positively sing.
A “raw living lasagna” (whose name did give me pause), for instance, showcases layers of sliced, sweet heirloom tomatoes interspersed with a rich pine-nut-and-ricotta purée, bright green pistachio pesto, slivers of sun-dried tomatoes and marinated mushrooms. Even a simple microgreens salad drizzled with Catalonian olive oil tastes as though it were prepared right in the garden. And none of the dishes taste, well, vegan—as in not attempting to resemble meat, as in not flat and flavorless.
No, this is food inspired by a talented, vegan chef’s honest love of fresh ingredients and their potential to delight, a chef who has worked at the likes of Tabla Mediterranean Bistro and now-defunct Zefiro. And served as it is in a tastefully laid-back dining room decorated (in a savagely funny way) with carnivorous plants, this is just the kind of creative cuisine Portland’s meat-lovers should be more than happy to embrace.