Fried anchovies with fennel and lemon....Brandy soaked dates stuffed with foie gras....Lamb Rillettes....Jamon wrapped chicken....Oxtail croquettes. Such are the restaurant nightmares of any number of pallid skinned vegans. Conversely, these are the very things I dream about in my healthy, robust state, and last night at Toro Bravo the very things...plus more...we happily munched our way through at a birthday dinner for my sister. Restaurant recession? Not at John Gorham's temple of Iberian tapas treasures on NE Russell Street. Tuesday night and it was rocking. Once again the equation of delivering real value plus superbly crafted food trumps the economic realities. And as ever the TB menu provides endless ways to satisfy any craving you might be experiencing.
We started out with cocktails and wine (and I heartily recommend their Txakoli (pronounced chac-o-lee) as the perfect starter white. Although on their very fairly priced wine list there are any number of red and white temptations worthy of your attention. With the liquid portion out of the way, we dug right into plates of their salty, perfectly fried anchovies with fried fennel and lemon (right photo) on top of a piquant romesco. This is one of Portland's great appetizers, and almost worth the trip to TB just to experience its singular delight. Other things we sampled in the food madness parade:
-Lamb Rillettes...delicious especially smeared with the orange marmalade it comes with.
- Manchego and Paprika Fritters...a little pedestrian, not much distinction. Pass on that next time.
- Salt Cod Fritters (left)...okay, the other classic PDX small plate, this almost ubiquitous starter is done better here than anywhere else, especially dipped in the offered aioli. Stoner food for adults!
- Sautéed Bruseels Sprouts with bacon sherry cream sauce...do I even need to tell you how good this was? Bacon sherry cream sauce...'nuff said!
- Squid Ink Pasta...another "wow" dish, rich and spicy. I LOVE this pasta!
- Calamari a la Plancha...sautéed fresh calamari, tender and seasoned just enough. Delish!
- Oxtail croquettes...a TB standby and something I could eat way too many of.
- Seared scallops with romesco...yes, more please, especially with that sensual, creamy romesco.
- Jamon wrapped chicken with pisto manchego...the pisto was wonderful as was the jamon, but hard to keep intact for bites with the chicken. Still quite good.
After this you'd think five healthy adults would have the good sense to leave, but we are also dealing with five healthy adults who also have semi-unhealthy food addictions, and besides what's a b-day dinner without dessert?
- Churros and chocolate (left)...really nice, better than I had in Spain. The fried dough not oily at all, and the dark chocolate was so good I wanted to drink it right out of the cup.
- Olive Oil Cake...moist, nutty, and somehow light, even with the apple-pear caramel sauce and whipped cream ("Light"? I know, I sometimes have a disconnect with reality).
- Caramel Panna Cotta...what's up with serving it in a custard cup instead in letting it be all jiggly on the plate as is traditional? Just call it custard with a (too heavy) caramel sauce. Skip this.
My bro-in-law and I also had a muscat-ey, honey-florally, very smooth Ransom Grappa to ensure good health (did I mention a disconnect?) and we left TB as always very happy. The cost for all of that was a more than reasonable $44 a person (before tip), and once again Gorham deserves credit for creating one of this cities best dining experiences.
photos from Eat.Drink.Think. and flickr