In the last couple of months, I had the unusual experience of staying in 10 different hotels in Portland, where I live. I was reviewing hotels for the Telegraph website. My assignment included eating at the hotel restaurants. Which sounds great, until you realize that even in Portland, hotel restaurants aren’t super vegan-friendly. The chefs and servers were wonderful to me, always coming up with something good to eat. But as vegans everywhere know, restaurants where you can just walk in and order something off the menu – like you’re not a freak or a total pain in the butt – are the best.
My favorite restaurant at all the hotels I visited? Departure at The Nines.
Like a Vegan-Friendly Spaceship
Departure has one of the coolest entryways. You ride the elevator up to the fifteenth floor of The Nines, then emerge into a hallway lit with purple light panels. Follow the hallway and you wind up in a restaurant reminiscent of a space ship, with spacy electronica music playing. The hostess asks those magic words: “Do you need a special menu? We have vegan or gluten-free.”
The next best thing to a veg restaurant is one that has a dedicated veg menu. And I loved that the hostess offered it to me first thing, rather than having to request it.
Famous Chef Gregory Gourdet
Departure is the work of Top Chef finalist Gregory Gourdet. His pan-Asian vegan menu is divided into several sections: salads, sushi rolls, dim sum, wok-fired dishes, chef recommendations. Dishes are smallish, to encourage ordering a bunch of stuff and sharing. Since there are about 20 vegan choices, it was very hard to decide. I finally chose a root vegetable sushi roll, a steamed bun filled with tempeh and kim chi, and Brussels sprouts in chili and lime sauce. I especially liked the steamed bun, which came off the dim sum section of the menu. The excellent Brussels sprouts are offered in both a vegan and non-vegan version, and are one of the restaurant’s most popular items, the server told me. The vegan version doesn’t include fish sauce.
I was too full for dessert, but five out of six of Departure’s desserts were vegan! I considered getting one to go for later, but they were all complex and melty, made to be eaten in the restaurant. For example, the coconut and vanilla custard features hazelnut crunch, makrut lime, Asian pear and marionberry sherbet. If only I hadn’t eaten so many Brussels sprouts…
The Nines is a wonderful hotel, very posh and glamourous while conscientiously eco-friendly. A LEED Silver Certified Hotel, The Nines receives 100 percent of its energy from renewable sources. Its engineers designed a plumbing system to save 500,000 gallons of water annually. The lobby is modern and artsy, swathed in silver and white hound’s tooth wallpaper and sprinkled with naked mannequins.
So if you’re visiting Portland and want to shell out for a fine downtown hotel, The Nines is a great place to stay. Or you could just make a reservation and ride straight up to the spaceship on the 15th floor.