Sunday, January 15, 2012


THIS is a chef I follow.  This is Joh Gorham's Toro Bravo.  And this may be my favorite restaurant... in the world.  The aesthetic, the vibe, the service, the space, the seating... okay NOT the no-reservations policy, but the food, the food, the food.  The stuff that's been on the menu since its opening is ethereal, and the new additions are as good and better. There's something on this menu for everyone... except for those fearful of life-altering deliciousness.

The menu is broken down into pinchos (appetizers), tapas (small plates), charcutaria, raciones (entrees), and I just noticed there is a $30 tasting menu which will definitely be my plan-of-action for a next visit.  I recommend sitting at the bar if possible, as it's usually quicker, AND you have the added benefit of enjoying the zippy, addictive nut-and-seed melange offered- without delaying your dinner at all.  For table seating, you may have your wait cut out for you, as this restaurant's excellence is no secret.  But once you're seated, the adventure begins.  Although they weren't on the menu this time, I remember Toro's as my first introduction to fried shishitos: an oily and salty roulette of intermittently mild and spicy-hot peppers, never knowing which might be which, but all the more exciting as a result.  In their stead we ordered a perfect salad of Groundwork's Greens, with pickled beets and roasty hazelnuts and smeary daubs of fromage blanc.

Arriving next (plates present as they are ready, which may or may not be in order in which you prefer to consume them) were sauteed brussels sprouts with bacon sherry cream and griddled shrimp with chiles, both of which we plowed into so rapidly I forgot to snap a picture before we were 75% done.  Finally, though, a guy getting his brussels sprouts right: the leaves nutty and crisped, the centers meltingly tender, all wallowing in a bacony bath.  The shrimp were monstrous, head-on jobbers, not as transcendent as the sprouts, perhaps, but inimitably fresh and perfectly cooked, with nice bit of heat from the chilies.  Salsify in lemon bacon cream arrived just in time to divert our gluttony long enough for me to photograph the remainder of the shrimp and sprouts (now conjoined on a single plate to make room), and despite its rich ingredients, had a lovely, lighter feel and milder flavor, the earthy tuber soft and succulent in smooth lemony cream, studded with hammy chunks of smoky bacon.

Then came the dish I forgot I'd had before, but immediately recalled once I saw (and smelled) it: hedgehog mushrooms on griddled bread, with a sherry-spiked cream... like they most idyllic vegetarian s.o.s. imagineable.  The salty sauce saturated the crusty loaf of  Ken's Artisan, beneath a drool-worthy tumble of toothsome mushrooms.  This could be a meal in itself.  With a scrambled egg, a brunch to end all brunches.  For a lumberjack, an rib-sticking afternoon snack.  For anyone with a tastebud, a must-eat experience.

But we didn't stop there.  A terra cotta ramekin of braised pork with collard greens joined cornmeal dumplings, redolent of cheese, in a sumptuous stew hearty enough to cut any Portland-caliber chill.  Lucky to have tried this one, too, as it was not one of chef/owner (/genius) John Gorham's doings, but his new head chef, Kasey Mills.  With it, he proved he can not only propagate Gorham's talent, but foster his own as well.  

The only thing wrong with dinner that night is that NEXT time I come to Toro I need to remember NOT to stuff myself silly, so I can sample a few offerings off that dessert menu:  bourbon date pudding with sweet cream (John's got a thing for bourbon: see his latest venture, Interurban), baked apples and pears with ice cream, and churros, cakes, crepes, and creams of every nature.  Stumptown coffee accompanies, of course, and that is honestly dessert in and of itself- or at least a worthy meal-terminating treat. And I'm talking about a meal of this caliber, where of the fifty+ item menu, there's nary a runt in the bunch. Bravo, Toro, bravo.

    Toro Bravo | Portland | Reservations

Toro Bravo

120 NE Russell St. Portland, OR 97212

Open d


120 NE Russell St, 
Portland, OR 97209 

503 281.4464

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