Restaurant Guide 2013: Natural Selection

3033 NE Alberta St., 288-5883,

[IMPRESSIONIST CHARDWORK] Natural Selection likes to make its metaphors plain. Not only on its vegetarian plates but in the procession of scrolls on its walls, which showcase vibrant roots, fruits, gourds and leaves. The chef's station is an island kitchen ripped from Martha Stewart's lookbook, both domestic and imposingly rustic-opulent. Though Natural Selection's dishes are available singly, the place functions best if you spring for the $40 weekly rotating four-course tasting menu, which has vegan and gluten-free items always available. There will be no carb-heavy, oil-laden calorie dumping here, no half-digestible faux meat or vegan junk food, but rather a succession of dishes that use vegetal flavor and texture as tightly arranged pointillist construction. It's perhaps a bit fussy, and gut-buster gourmands may find the portions stinting, but the restaurant's successes are terrific (though not always guaranteed), as with a recent padron pepper gnocchi and a beautifully composed salad of heirloom tomatoes both hearty and tartly green, filigreed cucumber curls, melon and citrus tang. All delicacy fades when it's time for dessert, however: The final course comes straight from grandma's kitchen, with comfort items such as carrot cake or peach-and-blueberry crumble that steamroll their fig or mint cream garnishes and play those heartstrings pure. 

Ideal meal: Couples should order one of each dish on the menu and swap.

Best deal: For the gluten-happy, draft beer is a mere $4 in a sea of $8 drinks.

Pro tip: Plan ahead, folks. Reservations fill days in advance.

5:30-10 pm Wednesday-Saturday. $$$.


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