Cascadian cuisine?

Having had a past life as a foodie and professional wine schlep, I was stunned by a night out I had last night with my best friend, his husband, and his close friend. It was so amazing that it may have been the best food experience of my entire life and it was all centered around vegan fair that was sourced within a 100-mile radius of the restaurant.

Farm Spirit does everything they can to tell the story behind the vegetables they literally hand select from the farmers they have real relationships with as respected friends. They honor these relationships by taking the time to learn the stories behind the products. Just like the story behind the wine. Where they informed us that the Merrman 2014 Chenin Blanc came from very old vines that had been cast aside and left to die. Only they survived and suffered then flourished producing some of the most minerally, complex, slightly acidic with incredibly balanced fruit in a glass that knocked all our socks off last night.

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The menu looked daunting with a list of dishes that was almost as big as our hands but we soon found out that each service was made to order. It was kind of like being on the set of Top Chef where they were doing one of the big competitions and serving world renowned 5-star chefs. Only it was a motley crew of people from Portland, Washington, Chicago and Ohio coming together last night to celebrate life, love and friendship on one incredibly beautiful Pacific Northwestern evening with a cool breeze, the clean scent of trees in the air and stars gently shining above.

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The first few dishes were finger foods and included Melon Pastrami, Watermelon Horseradish Shisho, an out of this world steamed bun stuffed with purple carrot and a life completing black garlic sauce. I believe the black garlic had been slow roasted for 6+ weeks if I heard correctly. All these dishes had a story behind the vegetables and one about the preparation technique and flavor combination to match.

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Our conversation was one of friends having a chance to come together and share experiences. Ask each other probing questions because our trust level among one another was built on a solid foundation of mutual respect. And, of course, each one of us had an opportunity to be vulnerable and share with the others the inner workings of our persons. All while the food and stories kept coming.

We moved onto things like an heirloom tomato floating on fermented celery with preserved walnut and leek blossoms. Then, one of my favorites, charred celtuce stem and garlicky leaves in a plum sauce.

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Then came the mushrooms. Now my buddy Doug hates mushrooms. Would probably rather eat garden slugs roasted over a summer grill to be quite honest. And yet he sampled the various selections of these various fungi that were presented to us last night. There was a dish with beautiful orca beans in a lobster mushroom cream sauce. One playfully titled “chicken of the woods” which was a type of mushroom I had never had before in a beautiful corn puree that damn near tasted like chicken. It was fibrous, meat like and absolutely delicate complex and amazing.

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One of our group favorites seemed to be the summer squash with quinoa and fermented sunflower, red pepper and tangerine sage dish. Absolutely well balanced yet transformative in it’s subtle complexity.

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Then all of the sudden we all fell down the rabbit hole and were presented with a playful concoction served over ice n a simple apothecary bottle stoppered with a cork titled “drink me.” This was the Kefir Refresher and was a shrub that served to reset al of our palates before the desert course was served. I’ve had a fair number of shrubs before which are vinegar, sugar and usually a fruit of some kind steeped for a few days until the flavors are melded. This one however was like a fine liquour brewed and guided by a master distiller.

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As the night came to a close we enjoyed a white nectarine and rose geranium ice cream with carbonated grapes. Yeah, the grapes had fiz! And yet it was the roast peach on an Emmer shortbread with filbert cream in a prickly ash syrup with snap dragons that stole the show for me. The richness of the peach as it had been roasted complimented all the other flavors while the syrup melded everything together into one cohesive experience with the flavors from the flecks of snapdragon blossoms. Absolutely incredible.

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The chef du cuisine made farewells. We all applauded. The night came to a close and we all rambled outside to talk as former strangers, chance acquaintances, people who experienced one of the greatest joys in life as a group forged through a beautiful shared experience.

If I lived here in Portland I would save up my money twice a year to come back to Farm Spirit. Not just for the food and wine sourced within a 100-mile radius of the restaurant, but for the humanity of the shared stories. Knowing that there are men and women behind the vegetables that stare back at me from my plate. The people shoulder to shoulder with me as we reflect on life together, share successes, failures, laughter and love for a couple hours over some of the most artistic compositions one could ever hope to encounter.

In a word? Magical.

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