If you ask around the People Who Know These Things in Portland about what is the city's best restaurant, you will get a myriad of replies. Some will pick the Spanish-inspired tapas restaurant Toro Bravo; many will not.
However, if you ask these same people for their top five, Toro Bravo will probably make the cut for just about everyone. So what exactly is it? Tapas are small plates, with the intention you can share them in a group and get tastes of many different things in the course of a lively dinner, and usually paired with wines. Toro Bravo has taken that Spanish style of eating and infused it with local ingredients and flavors, while still holding on to some of the Spanish themes as well.
And, as everyone told us, the results are spectacular - so we had to check it out.
We decided to go on a Sunday, right about the time it opened. Traffic forced us to be about 15 minutes after opening, but we found a spot about a block and a half away (street parking only in a neighborhood). We stepped in to the restaurant and the place was hopping, but thankfully there were still a few open seats (I've heard stories about long lines, and I'm not one for waiting longer than 5-10 minutes). The hostess actually seated us at a bar-like area right by the open kitchen - called the Chef's bar - so we could actually see some of what was going on back there. You know, I have a great respect for the chefs - the working area is small, you have to deal with the other chefs, there are tons of sharp objects, hot pans are everywhere... I'd probably end up in the ER once a week with my history...
The inside of the place is nice. There is the requisite red involved in the color scheme, but it's tasteful. There is a mix of tables, from the bar area we sat at to tables of four to areas for a group of 15 or so.
But, of course, you go there for the food. We started off with a glass of the house red wine sangria - which we split, since Wifey doesn't drink much and I was driving. It was good - tart, but not overly so, with enough sweet to balance it out. They also gave us some pretty good mixed nuts to nibble on while we waited, which was nice because I was fairly hungry.
Our first tidbit of food was a Griddled Bacon Wrapped Date with warm honey from the Pinchos section of the menu (ours was stuffed with an almond). Truthfully, I had never eaten a date before, so I had no idea what to expect. A big raisin? That's actually not too far off, though they aren't too big and we probably should have ordered two (only $2 each). However, this was amazing. Sweet and salty, but melt in your mouth, especially with the accompanying honey. This was the first item we ate and I had already decided I'd come back just for these.
Our second course was a plate of chorizo sausage, manchego cheese, and country bread from the Charcuteria section. All of these were yummy, complementing each other well. However, I don't know if I'd get it again, just because it's something you can get elsewhere and I don't necessarily think I'd point at any of the three things as being the best I've ever had. Plus, there are so many other things to order...
Our final two courses were from the Tapas section. Wifey picked out the salt cod fritters with aioli, which she had read about online as being fantastic. They were good and had good flavor, but wouldn't necessarily be something we had to order again.
I picked out jamon-wrapped chicken with pisto manchego. I had no idea what jamon was when I ordered, just hoped it wasn't anything I wouldn't like. Turns out jamon is a lot like proscuitto and tastes bacony, so that part was fabulous. Pisto manchego, which I expected to be something related to the cheese, is actually more like a tomato sauce or a thick salsa with a ton of great flavor. Maybe like a piccata? So this dish was chicken, ham, and thick red sauce - and it was fantastic. Very fantastic.
So what did we think of Toro Bravo? I'm not prepared to say it's Portland's best, but it was pretty damn good and we will absolutely be going back. The menu is just so varied with so many things that looked good - and the house bacon and manchego burger is supposed to be magnificent - that one visit isn't enough.
We'll absolutely be going back for more "research."