Natural Selection: Restaurant Guide 2014

3033 NE Alberta St., 288-5883, naturalselectionpdx.com

[STILL LIFE OF VEGETABLES] In a more perfect world, the approach to vegetarian cooking at Natural Selection would filter down, Darwin-style, to the rest of the city's meat-free cuisine. That's not saying I want everything else extinct—there are times when a sloppy bowl of rice and beans will do, and even that oh-so-rare occasion when a soy-based patty posing as a burger is welcome. But this Alberta Street spot elevates vegetables to something holy, selecting whatever is in season and assembling careful flavor and texture combinations. Best to take a date and share: For $45 a pop ($25 more for the wine pairing), you'll each get four courses and hit everything on the menu. Occasionally, dishes seem to have emerged from a perfumery rather than a kitchen—a chilled almond and apricot soup was beautiful, with rings of purple petals across a pale orange canvas, but the swirl of vanilla oil made it taste like I'd taken a swig of something from my grandmother's vanity. Other dishes are a good deal more savory, such as a recent plate of crispy polenta with spicy harissa and a small garden of green beans, peppers, peas and pickled onion on top. Desserts are a highlight, particularly those that abandon the restraint of previous courses with downright decadent cherry and cornmeal upside-down cake or ginger cream-filled beignets. REBECCA JACOBSON.

Pro tip:

Book in advance, but relax once you arrive—that table is yours for two hours. Oh, and at $4, draft beer is half the price of a cocktail or glass of wine.

5:30-10 pm Wednesdays-Saturdays. $$$.