There are birthdays, and then, there are BIRTHDAYS.
ALL CAPS. Italics. Stand up and shout out loud BIRTHDAYS.
I had one of those this year. It lasted a couple of weeks, actually, thanks to my amazing family and friends. Plus, on my actual birthday, I enjoyed a fabulous night with fellow food writers at Toro Bravo.
If you’ve been in Portland for longer than a hipster moment, you know Toro Bravo. Maybe you’ve heard about the long wait time due to its popularity, still, in its eighth year in business. Maybe you’ve heard about its incredible traditional tapas made with modern techniques and unexpected flavor combinations. Maybe you’ve read about prolific restaurateur chef John Gorham, whose midas touch has put Toro Bravo, Tasty N Sons, Tasty N Alder, and M.E.C. at the top of the Portland food scene since 2007 and in the pages of notable food publications.
I knew all of this about Toro Bravo. And still, on this visit, I was impressed beyond expectation.
I’ll share behind-the-scenes peek of the magic behind Toro Bravo, but first I’ll start where any delicious story should: by tantalizing your palate with some tasty appetizers.
Traditional Tapas With a Twist
Toro Bravo is known for its fabulous tapas, inspired by Gorham and team’s trips to Spain. You can read about their travels and inspirations here. The end result of their research trips to Spain are served up to the hungry mouths of Portland diners each night in Gorham’s family of restaurants throughout the Portland area.
Below is a sample of some of the tasty nibbles Toro Bravo offers on their regular tapas menu plus some dishes you might find on the Chef’s tasting menu ($40 per person)
Manchego Pillows: jamon, caviaroli piment d’ espelette
The use of the word “pillows” for this tapas dish is perfection: as soon as you pop one into your mouth, you might expect a traditional toothy crusty bread with some hard-to-chew prosciutto, but what you get is this sweetly delicate bite that feels like it is literally melting in your mouth. As it melts, the salt and sweet flavors of the jamon and the manchego blend together and a teaser of caviar dances in for a surprise finish. SO GOOD.
House Cured Sobrasada (sausage) with manchego crisp and honey on crostini
Grande Charcuterie Board: chorizo, lomo, fuet, french “kisses,” duck liver mousse terrine, sherry chicken liver mousse
Toro Bravo’s Charcuterie Board is one of the best in the city, in my opinion — and I have tasted a lot of charcuterie plates in this town. Toro Bravo cures many of its charcuterie in-house. Every single item on this board was expertly executed and mouthwatering. I tried to pick a favorite to share with you, but I couldn’t. You’ll just have to enjoy them all!
Beet salad with citrus and radish sprouts
Clam Cataplana with tomatoes and jamon
Confession: I think Sara from Salt.Water.Coffee and I could have eaten a table full of these all on our own. I’m slightly obsessed with this dish. I want to know how it was made because I swear there is a combination of spices that just made this dish sing on a platter.
Iberico Skirt Steak (pictured left) and Braised Beef Cheeks with celery root, yukon gold potatoes (pictured right)
Each of the dishes was paired with a cocktail or wine.
This 2013 Envinate, Táganan was the perfect complement to the heartier meat dishes.
Pastry chef Carrie Merrill brings her signature creative concoctions to Toro Bravo by recent way of Urban Farmer and Departure. I remember always thoroughly enjoying the desserts she created for those restaurants, and she’s definitely continuing to up her game by developing standout desserts that complement Toro Bravo’s menu.
Just as Toro Bravo’s Charcuterie Board is like no other, you can expect the same of the Cheese Board that Carrie curates, as well as the insanely delicious Blood Orange Olive Oil Cake, with spiced chocolate cremeaux and served with olive oil ice cream.
I can’t wait to go back to try more of Pastry Chef Merrill’s desserts. The molten chocolate cake, the baked apples and pears, but especially the churros and chocolate. Mmm . . . churros. I have a weak spot for churros and chocolate (and who doesn’t, really?).
Behind-the-Scenes Tour by Chef John Gorham
As if the food and drink alone weren’t enough to make this a night to remember, we also were treated to a tour of the underground kitchen, storage, and charcuterie rooms by none other than Restaurateur and Chef John Gorham himself.
This, I was not expecting. To say that Gorham’s unexpected presence floored me would be an understatement; I was pretty much glowing with excitement when I saw him as soon as I arrived. Chef Gorham was incredibly gracious and kind with our group. He generously shared his knowledge and what goes into the menus, the thought process behind each restaurant (including the soon-to-open Plaza Del Toro), and showing us where so much of the house made charcuterie is created and cured.
To Portland food lovers, this night was like going on a tour of The White House lead by the President himself (okay, don’t let that comparison get to your head, Mr. Gorham) or going to Disneyland and getting to ride all the rides for free AND getting secret behind-the-scenes tours that are left out of the guidebooks. It was one of the many incredible ways I got to celebrate turning 41 (yep, I’m old – and proud of it!) and not just having any birthday, but having A BIRTHDAY.
Visit Toro Bravo
120 NE Russell
Portland, Oregon 97212
Open daily for dinner: 5pm to 10pm, Fri & Sat till 11pm
I highly recommend planning ahead before you go and reading more about Toro Bravo’s reservation policy. This would make an excellent spot for a moms’ night out, birthday celebration, anniversary dinner, or group outing.
Many many thanks to the always amazing team at Little Green Pickle, and to Chef Gorham and his entire crew for this wonderful dining experience.