Why is the term is trending? I suspect it's because we're quietly witnessing the post-Millennials come of age. There's still no good name for them yet, but suddenly they're here. For the first time this week, a member of Gen Z will start as quarterback in the NFL. Lonzo Ball isn't a Millennial. Lorde isn't a Millennial, either.
It's not always clear until you have hindsight, of course.
It's obvious now that Tusk, which opened last August, is that generational restaurant. The veggie-heavy Mediterranean-ish restaurant on East Burnside presaged a year in which veganism went wild in Portland, with a crop of a half-dozen notable new animal-free openings.
My personal favorite is Aviv, the new vegan Israeli spot from the Gonzo food truck's Tal Caspi. Aviv was a pop-up before taking over the space inside Southeast Division Street's Banana Building that formerly held Portobello Vegan Trattoria.
Like Tusk, Aviv builds much of its seasonal and constantly updating menu from hummus, labneh, carrots and eggplant.
Unlike Tusk…well, Aviv is not Tusk. Tusk stands out for its sparing and skillful use of meat and cheese. Here's it's all tofu feta, cashew labneh and soy curls. But you also won't need to make reservations a month in advance, nor will you spend two hours and $250 on a meal for four. It's a mid-market version of modern, veggie-driven Middle Eastern that's low-key and accessible. Tusk is the runway version; Aviv is prêt-à-porter.
My favorite thing at Aviv is the hummus ($7-12), which takes up about a quarter of the menu and includes eight distinct versions. The base hummus is great, striking a perfect balance of smooth and substantial, with a pleasant nuttiness with heavy use of Soom tahini, which is made of single-origin Ethiopian sesame processed in Israel. The wide variety of well-chosen add-ons—everything from hatch chiles to harissa to avocado—are what make it special. My personal favorites are the spicy with fiery green zhoug (often spelled s’hug)—a perfect blend of cilantro, garlic, cloves and green jalepenos—and the harissa with a kiss of brightening preserved lemon. Regardless of what else you order, you should order a few hummus plates to share.
They'll be served with fresh-baked pita as needed. Get a very respectable house pickle plate ($5) for a touch of acid and you have a wonderful start to your meal. (Unless you're vegan, you should avoid the tofu feta.)
I was also very taken with the shawarma plate ($13). It makes good use of soy curls—turns out, they're an Oregon invention—that are curry-spiced, sauteed and topped with tahini and pickled mango. That shawarma is combined with hummus, tahini, that spicy zhoug and a topping for fries ($12). At lunch, the shawarma goes into a pita with pickles and a diced-up salad of tomatoes and cucumbers. (Avoid the other pocket, made with bright green falafel in which the chickpeas had mysteriously gone missing—the very vegetal falafel balls instead taste like deep-fried parsley.)
On chilly days, I'd opt for the shakshouka ($12), the classic tomato stew that here has a nice herbal depth and doesn't suffer from the use of "tofu eggs."
The salads are also very nice. An appetizer of harissa-spiced moroccan carrots ($5-7) is pleasantly earthy; a beet salad ($7-9) made with roasted beet puree, cashew labneh and crushed hazelnuts is pleasantly hearty. The big salad ($12) is everything you want in a big Mediterranean salad, with crisp greens, sweet tomatoes, a little cucumber, some avocado, plus garbanzo beans, herbs and tahini.
Aviv brings this all together with pop music, decent and reasonably priced cocktails and good service. It's a bright, pleasant place to be—maybe not as hip as Tusk, but also not a dour room of reclaimed wood and pig guts.
Who wants to stare down a whole pig's head when they can have fresh peaches with crushed-up herbs? There's something new and interesting happening in Portland food, and for me Aviv is the proof of concept—a restaurant that defines a moment in which everyone wants clean protein and dewy-fresh produce in a room decorated in various shades of off-white. The cured offal of the mustache-wax era suddenly seems not just drab, but tacky.
Aviv, 1125 SE Division St., 503-206-6280, avivpdx.com. Monday-Friday 11 am-10 pm, Saturday-Sunday 10 am-10 pm.