Hello, ravenous readers! A thousand apologies for dragging my heels with the updates. It’s a hefty helping of reading, so pace yourselves and be sure to hydrate…
The accursed head cold I was fighting off earlier this month put such a damper on my experience at Petite Jacqueline that it basically isn’t worth mentioning, so I consider Vinland to be my maiden meal during this year’s Restaurant Week. Vinland is the brainchild of David Levi and has generated a lot of buzz for its ambitious mission of only using locally-sourced ingredients. It is also a gluten-free establishment with the exception of beer. Black pepper, a seasoning we often perceive as a given on most tabletops, lemons, and olive oil are a few of the items purposefully omitted from Levi’s dishes. Other reviews I’ve come across seem to accuse him of having his head in the clouds with the self-imposed limitations of his menu. While I can certainly recognize that it’s a challenging undertaking, this business model falls right in line with Portland’s commitment to buy local programs and responsible farming. I guess I was just surprised that it wasn’t embraced with arms wide open from the getgo. David came across as a totally down to earth guy who put a great deal of thought into his concept. It does not seem like something he’s doing on a whim because he has money to throw around…which he doesn’t, evidenced by the fact that he humbly launched the whole project via Kickstarter. It was refreshing to hear how his personal experiences have shaped his approach to food. He shared a wonderful anecdote about foraging for cranberries by a lake with his friends which inspired the Red Rabbit cocktail. 99% of my dining experiences have front of house staff explaining dishes to me, not the owner/executive chef, so that was a pretty refreshing for a change.
I’ve been on a mocktail kick ever since my birthday at Vena’s Fizz House, so I was stoked to see alcohol-free offerings. I tried a blueberry shrub spritz, which had a very convincing bite to it that made me question whether it was truly missing booze. Our party of three made our selections from the prix fixe menu and managed to get the full spectrum for all courses except the entrees. Two of us ordered the pollock, but I adjusted mine to exclude the egg yolk emulsion. Our server was extremely conscientious of this request and followed up to ask how severe of an allergy/sensitivity it was, which I was very impressed by.
My soup consisted of a yogurt-turnip puree, fermented carrot, blueberry, and arugula. The inclusion of yogurt had me expecting this to be chilled like a vichyssoise, but it was served warm. I think the ingredients worked well together, but something dairy-based at that temperature was slightly off-putting for me. It was my first time having pollock as a protein, I just knew it was a fish. It turned out to be a whitefish (beautifully cooked I might add) piled high with burdock, leek hay, and watermelon radish. I could not help but compare the blueberry gastrique across the white plate as something one might see in Dexter Morgan’s blood spatter lab. The portion of leek hay was too generous for my liking, kind of felt as though I was sent out to pasture. We were also served two amuse-bouches throughout the course of the meal. French for “mouth amuser,” an amuse serves as a bit of a sneak preview into what the chef has in store for you. It is traditionally a single bite that requires no utensils. I know I’m over-simplifying the ingredients, but since I had company to socialize with, I was not as attentive as when I dine alone. The first was a beet chip with micro-greens and the second was dried pollock with butter & seaweed. David was super hospitable to send over complimentary cocktails at the end of our meal, which luckily my dining companions had the tolerance (and stealth) to drink on my behalf. Overall, I felt the dining space was bright (YES! GO FOOD PORN!) and understated, the service highly attentive, and I gained a deep respect for David’s philosophy. While some of the dishes missed the mark for me in terms of temperature and texture, I could still appreciate the caliber of ingredients and am confident it’s worth another visit .