Farm Spirit in Portland, Oregon is a vegan eatery with inventive small bites served during a multi-course, reservations-only meal with chef's counter seating. Simply put, it's one of the best vegan restaurants in Portland.
From the casual observer's viewpoint, it's very Portland: the all-vegan, almost-all-local menu, the teeny tiny plates of food, the wine pairings, the rebel tatted up chef and crew. But does Farm Spirit deliver on quality and value to be one of the best vegan restaurants in Portland, or is it all style and no substance?
That's the question I set forth to answer when my husband and I dined at Farm Spirit for the first time. I'd heard several mixed reviews from friends, fellow food writers, and random food lovers I'd meet at events, before attending. Phrases such as "mind-blowing dishes," "best dining experience I've ever had in Portland," "way too pretentious," and "a little too Portland even for Portland" were thrown my way.
My dining experience was all of that, and then some. It was a maddening mixture of beautiful, artful presentation with crazy chef skills, soul-filled stories oozing of passion for the food and the restaurant's local farm partners, and a very full, happy belly at the end.
Farm Spirit is the real deal, and worth every penny. Here's why.
The Farm Spirit experience
The more I look back on our dining experience, the more I dig it.
When you first visit the Farm Spirit website, try not to be overwhelmed by all of the "rules." There's a rhyme and a reason for all of them.
Reservations are required in advance. Tickets are $60 to $80 per person, include gratuity, and are non-refundable but they are transferable. Order your beverage pairing - either the wine pairing or the non-alcoholic pairing - in advance as well. The Horticulture Tasting Menu is set and no menu substitutions are allowed; there is a gluten-free version of the menu available, and if you have allergy concerns, contact the chef in advance. Dinner service starts right at 7pm each night, so be sure to get there a few minutes early. Don't you dare run late or you will face the angry wrath of your fellow diners who have been waiting for you to get there so dinner could start; or, if you're late late, you might be SOL on a course or two.
The communal, chef's seating dining experience at Farm Spirit is part of what makes it one the best vegan restaurants in Portland. If you enjoy eating, you should experience this type of meal at least once.
Seating is right at the bar, and there are 14 seats total. You'll see from the food below that exact numbers and timing are key to making the meal a success for everyone. So buck up, precious buttercup: make your reservation like an adult, get there on time, and be prepared to have one of the most interesting dining experiences - if not one of the most delicious - of your lifetime.
Chef Aaron Adams, who has been vegan since 2004, opened Farm Spirit on SE Morrison in the summer of 2015. Along with Chef Ricardo Perez and Chef Tim Dearing, Chef Adams creates a different menu each week that adheres to a strict vegan diet. Dishes are based on availability of seasonal fresh produce, which they source from a wide variety of farmers markets and farms within 100 miles of the restaurant.
The big reason why Farm Spirit is one of the best vegan restaurants in Portland is the food! Each Farm Spirit meal consists of 10 to 15 courses. The food, which Chef Adams describes as "Cascadian cuisine," is other-worldly. I've eaten at plenty of vegetarian and vegan restaurants in my lifetime, and I've never had vegan food that tastes or looks anything like this.
Here's what my hubby (a Kansas City-born, Swiss-bred Carnivore with a capital C) and I enjoyed during our Farm Spirit meal. We had 14 courses that night, and we both opted for the wine pairings, even though we'd heard the non-alcoholic pairings were amazing. Because wine.
Our first glasses of bubbly were paired with a delicate small votive-holder-like bowl of Carrot Textures, which was a light puree of carrots that tasted incredible and truly helped wake up the palate in preparation for the rest of the meal.
Next was my husband's favorite course: Carrot Jerky, Parsley, Celery. Carrot jerky? YES, carrot jerky.
Third course: Concentrated Tomato and Basil.
Fourth Course: Roast Beet, Fermented Fennel, Marigold.
Fifth course: Quinoa Cracker, Cauliflower, Coriander, Mint.
Sixth Course: Shiro Plum, Lemon Cucumber, Pineapple Weed, Fennel Vinegar
Seventh Course: Tomato Water, Cherries, Sungolds, Herbs and Leaves. This was a slightly sweet, beautiful blend of summer in a bowl. There's a long explanation of the tomato water, but I was honestly too busy eating and slurping every last inch of this dish to recall. The tomato + cherry combo was incredible.
The Restaurant Vibe
I'm going to take a little breather from the food for a bit to talk about the environment, because the atmosphere plays a large role in what makes Farm Spirit one of the best vegan restaurants in Portland.
Many times during the meal, I found myself busy rockin' out in my own little world to the mad beats happening in the background. The playlist at Farm Spirit is spot on and helps create a super fun, light vibe. The chefs are also all SO much fun. While the seating and the dishes might make you feel like this could be a stuffy atmosphere, the chefs make sure it is the exact opposite. They share stories and ask questions and laugh a LOT... they want to make sure that you feel comfortable and that you can sit back and enjoy the whole experience. I truly appreciate that.
Okay, back to the food. Because there's SO much more left...
Eighth Course: Cucumber, Celtuce, Blueberry, Rhubarb, Borage.
Ninth Course: Potato, Sunflower Yogurt, Lemon Balm, Dill, Purslane. The dishes from this point forward start resembling more of what the general population might consider to be more main course dishes: they are "meatier" (without the meat, obviously) with richer flavors and heavier textures.
Tenth Course: Summer Squash, Eggplant, Smoked Tomato, Allium-Fermented Sunflower
Eleventh Course: Smoked Artichoke Stuffed Padron. I am not a fan of padron peppers, so I had a small bite and allowed hubby to eat the rest.
Twelfth Course: Sprouted Grains | Braised Lobster Mushrooms |Pole Beaks, Corn, Black Garlic. Oh yes. I loved this dish so much.
After the main savory courses, we were served these adorable little beakers of palate-cleansing Golden Raspberry Kefir. And that's when it hits me: Farm Spirit is Alice in Wonderland and we've all fallen down the rabbit hole wondering what is this magical place?
Then: time for dessert!
Thirteenth Course: Lovage Ice Cream, Corn Cake, Strawberry, Caramel
Fourteenth Course: Raspberry-Hazelnut Tart, Hazelnut Cream, Marigold
Finally, we all left with goody bags of housemade vegan bread and with that, my heart exploded from food bliss and my belly exploded from the best all-vegan dining experience I've had in my life.
Honestly, I wasn't 100% sure of how I felt about Farm Spirit when we walked out of there. I was mesmerized by the whole Alice in Wonderland feel of it. I loved it, then I thought it was too much, then I liked it, then I rolled my eyes at sometimes over-the-top effort and descriptions, and then I loved it.
The fact that I was still thinking about it long after we left was a big reason why I consider it one of the best vegan restaurants in Portland. It's the kind of dining experience that takes a hold of your every sense, shakes it up, makes you rethink food preparation as you know it, and keeps you wanting more - and that's a very good thing when it comes to restaurants.
Chef Adams and his team do an exceptional job of sourcing the most delicious, fresh, in-season, local produce and then turning them into creative, inventive, artful, and absolutely delicious small plates. Dinner is a well-oiled machine at Farm Spirit, with impeccable timing and darn near-perfect presentation.
Go to Farm Spirit. It is a fun, lively, experimental yet elegant, refined yet rock n' roll, delicate yet hearty experience. Try it for yourself, and let me know how your experience compared.
1414 SE Morrison Street
Portland, Oregon 97214
Many thanks to Farm Spirit for the complimentary dining experience. As always, all opinions and photos are my own. I am itching to go back as I write this, and I am so grateful to have a vegan restaurant like this in my part of the world!
wow! all of this looks amazing! i wanna go to portland. like NOW!!!
superb photography..! thanks for sharing this post.
Very nice article, and let me tell you that those photos look AMAZING!
Looks like it was a magical evening! Having so many courses is the epitome of luxurious. I hadn't heard of this restaurant before and you've enlightened me. Thank you! I've added it to my must-try list.
Marlynn Jayme Schotland says
Luxurious is a fabulous word for this dining experience. It was amazing! Hope you get to dine at Farm Spirit and check it out for yourself someday, Amanda!
Mary @ Vindulge says
Oh wow!!! That place seems right up my alley! I've only read a few reviews that were, as you experienced, all over the map. But I've just ignored them. I loved your thorough review of the entire experience. I don't think it sounds too over the top or "Portland'ish" at all! In fact we NEED more places that make this kind effort to give diners a truly amazing experience! This town is so full of crap service, and also those that have good food but little more, or places that really are full of pretension, that it's so refreshing to hear about a place like this. I've tried a few of the other well known multi-course dining experineces like this in Portland (not vegan though) and was so disappointed. It kind of needs to be little lavish to get the true meaning of this kind of experience I think. And I agree with Pech that it's important to do the pay in advance thing so the chefs can properly plan for the meal. My husband owns me a birthday dinner, so I'm totally going to have him take me here!
Marlynn Jayme Schotland says
I agree: the amazing service AND the reservations only were both VERY welcome features in my mind. In fact, I rarely dine out now at places that do NOT accept reservations, just because I don't have time to deal with waiting in line or not knowing. What a wonderful birthday treat it would be if your hubby made reservations here! I think you'd love it, Mary, and I would really be interested in your take on the wine pairings.
So glad you liked Farm Spirit like I did! I would heartily agree that the staff, Chef Aaron particularly is quite a character, but the passion he has does deliver to diners in terms of the food and the overall experience as long as you let them be the captain and give yourself into a vegan experience like no other vegan meal I've ever had. I also respect the reservations/pay in advance system - it helps chefs manage their work and food, and for a place with this much labor before the plating (which they do right in front of you so you can watch the artistry happen!) I sympathize. Also love that since gratuity is already included you don't have to fumble for payment at the end and do math either, just take your goodie bag and wonder what time in the morning you'll eat it...
Marlynn Jayme Schotland says
LOVED it, Pech! I agree: the reservation system is the only way to go with this type of restaurant service, and I appreciate and respect it. Can't wait to go back!