What's the food/atmosphere like at Natural Selection?
Hello everyone. We'll be in Portland soon and have been doing tons of research on where to eat. Decisions have been made for all nights except one. I am very intrigued by Natural Selection. It seems inventive, interesting and also very Portland (I could be wrong?), which appeals to us coming from the UK. We're also both veggie (although I eat fish...). But what's the general conensus on 1) food (is it really any good?) and 2) atmosphere (is it hushed and quiet, or more buzzy?) I'd love to get the opinion of the locals on this board.
If not Natural Selection, I've also been thinking about Aviary, which I believe is in the same neighbourhood.
I also feel compelled to comment after the harsh dis by Sambamaster. I'm an admitted foodie that's also veggie-leaning but a fish and fowl eater.
My husband & I have eaten at Natural Selection 3-4x (though not in the past few months) and have always had a stellar experience. Aaron's food is inspired, creative, beautifully presented, and most important -- delicious. Since the menu is always changing, no two meals are alike--and that's what makes it fun.
Yes, they rely heavily on local and seasonal ingredients, but this restaurant does not fit any Portland cliche or fit in any standard formula. Quite the opposite!
Since most vegetarian restaurants in Portland are pitiful--always trying to remind the diner than they're not eating meat instead of embracing vegetables-- Natural Selection is a refreshing change. If you've ever dined at Ubuntu in Napa, this is a similar experience.
Regarding service, we've always had knowledgeable & professional waitstaff (even though not all of them are well versed in the wines, you can always ask for the bartender/wine guy to stop by to ask more questions). Wine pairings with your meal are also an absolute steal for the quality of wines offered.
The ambience is nothing special, but still pleasant. It's intimate but lively due to the open kitchen that allows diners to watch the chefs at work. I think this is a special place not to be missed (by vegetarian or meat eaters alike)!
I like Natural Selection a lot, so I'll offer a different perspective, though I haven't been for a while, so hey, maybe it has gone downhill.
It's true the food can be a mixed bag, but I've never had anything bad. The menu changes every week, and you get to pick between two dishes for each of four courses. but sometimes you'll pick four winners and sometimes just a few are excellent and a few others are OK. I went once with some friends who likened it to a video game - whoever picks the "right" four wins, and we had good fun with it. I've never had an amazing dessert there, though, though that's true of most Portland restaurants.
I like that the food is very vegetable focussed - most of the vegetarian places here use lots of fake meats or tofu or they're places that just do veggie burgers, etc. I generally find the dishes to be inventive and fresh, and often use seasonal ingredients in surprising and creative ways. Assuming the food hasn't gone downhill (which again, it very well may have), I often suggest it to friends coming to town as a good stop if you're going to a lot of places with very heavy food.
I've never had bad service there, but I'm not fussy about service. I hear people complain all the time about service in Portland and it's just never bothered me. It's certainly better than I had living in Europe! I do recall one waiter being a bit sketchy on the wines, but there was a bartender/beverage person, and we asked for her to come over and she was great.
The atmosphere is... somewhere between quiet and buzzy? It's a pretty small place, so not that loud, but certainly not the kind of place you're expected to keep your voice down.
Anyway, I love Aviary too, so I'd recommend either. It's not quite as "Portland", I don't think, but the food is really great.
I guess I mean that it ticks more of the cliche Portland boxes: hyper-seasonal, local ingredients, constantly changing menu, vegetarian, very unpretentious, and the decor.
Aviary could probably fit in in NY or SF, which is a compliment, and the fact that it's a bit different to most Portland restaurants is one of the reasons I like it so much, but I recognize that when people visit a city, they often want something that is very much representative of that city - I certainly do.
I saw this and felt the need to comment. Natural Selection is a gem of a restaurant, especially if you are a vegetarian/vegan. Our experience there was fantastic ( we are meat eaters.) The intimate environment and artfully designed dishes were very satisfying both texturally and with balanced flavors. We've all had French, Farm to Table, Northwest cuisine over and over again. Natural Selection serves complex with only using plant based ingredients which I found really interesting and very refreshing. With the menu changing weekly, there is definitely a chance that you might not get the perfect dish. But so far our experiences there have been right on each time.
We ate there a few weeks ago for the first time, and probably the last. We were looking forward to it immensely, having recently adopted a largely vegan, yet still 'flexitarian', eating thing. We opted for the $35 prix fixe option, which allowed us to taste everything on the menu. Well, of the four courses, two were just ok, the entrees were both VERY disappointing—very confused, over use of ingredients—and so, on the food, we'd rate it a 5 out of 10.
The ambience was fine...not noisy.
Now the good part. No. The bad part. Well, the worst part:
The service was insulting, haughty, insolent. Our waiter could have been an out of work Hollywood actor, pretty-boy type, who'd landed in Portland hoping to get work on some locally produced television series and then, immediately rise to stardom and fame. His attitude about service was, well, friggin' lousy. Maybe we're just too old to be taken seriously in Portland's obviously youth-culture-oriented eateries, but, too bad. He was snotty and inefficient, and, in regards to the food and wine on the menu, totally clueless...couldn't answer a single question we posed without hemming and hawing and then, posing questions to us to make us feel like we were the ignorant one. Inexcusable. Then, when we were ordering a bottle of wine (which is another ridiculous story that will have to wait), he could not have been interested enough in our selection to even pay attention to what we said. He totally forgot about it, and we didn't see our wine until we finally managed to flag him down toward the end of the second course to remind him that we had, indeed, ordered a bottle of Rosso di Montalcino. "I guess I didn't hear you," he admitted.
Hope this helps. We know a bit about food, are considered excellent home cooks, and our palates are relatively well developed. We also appreciate good service, and when spending about 100 bucks for a meal, even expect it!!!
We won't be returning....
But, Your Mileage May Vary!!! Buona fortuna!