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volante: usa

¡Cena spectacular!
¡Cena spectacular!

Toro Bravo, Portland, Oregon
Moorish lamb chops at Toro Bravo


Stanley Moss visits a Spanish-themed eatery in the ever-popular Northeast district of Portland, Or., Toro Bravo, helmed by one of the city’s most memorable chefs
photographed by the author


SERIOUS FOODIES in Portland, Or. remember chef John Gorham as the guy who used to make the amazing sausages behind the Viande counter at City Market down on Northwest 21st, who then went on to cook world-class dinners at changeable locations all over town under the business name Simpatica. Evolution happens, and four months ago John and wife Courtney opened Toro Bravo, a 60-seat Spanish-themed eatery in Portland’s trendy Northeast district. They promptly garnered a Restaurant of the Year award, after which John was named Chef of the Year by Portland magazine. The place has been packed ever since, a vaulted street-level space, furnished in natural wood and warm tones, with a modernist twist.
   The concept: lots of little portions, tapa-style, which keep on coming until you're forced to howl ‘¡Bastantes!’ Lucire asked John to order for us on a recent gustatory expedition, and we experienced a succession of authentic dishes, interpretations which might have been served in the finest establishments in Andalucia, classic preparations with the occasional North African twist, accented by John's deft hand for spices.
   The chef recommended a superb red wine, a 2001 Rottlan Torra Torroja del Priorat to kick start things, which proved to be a sensational beginning. A small dish of pickled vegetables and marinated olives launched the feast, priming the palate for his signature sherry chicken liver mousse, served with two types of bread, ethereal!
   Marinated sheep’s cheese with rose petal harissa and mint sailed out to the table accompanied by pimentos de Padron, nearly identical to those classic roasted small green Spanish peppers we sampled in Granada last month. In Spain there's always a hot one in the bunch, which makes for entertaining dinner conversation; at Toro Bravo the chilis stayed mild and delectable, fruits of a scrupulously obsessive local grower.
   Next up, Moorish pork pincho with lime pickled onions, succulent and tender. A rather generous salad of singing pig greens, garlanded with marinated beets, chopped egg and hazelnuts arrived, followed by delicate salt cod fritters with aioli.
   We still had room for more, and devoured seared cauliflower with chopped eggs and salsa verde, tangy and aromatic seared scallops with romesco served at piping temperature with perfect gelatinous consistency in the center, and expertly grilled Moorish lamb chops with grilled baby carrots and garlic chili brown butter dazzling with the aftertaste of cumin.
   We opted for the heap of chocolate almonds, which appeared to be too abundant but got finished off in their entirety, and sampled the apples baked to order with almond ice cream, which needed to be ordered 20 minutes in advance, well worth the wait.
   It’s hard to say ‘Adios’ after such an amazing array of delectable food, and harder to stand up from the table and stagger out into the cool Portland night. But with a menu which changes daily, and a chef like John Gorham, it will be tough to stay away from Toro Bravo. Bridgetown regulars have already discovered this culinary oasis which doesn't take reservations, so an early walk-in is advised.


Note: our entire cheque came to less than $150, yet another enticement for a return visit to this superlative addition to the neighbourhood’s vibrant restaurant scene. •


Toro Bravo
120 NE Russell Street
Portland, OR 97212
Telephone 1 503 281-4464


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View from the street

The sign at Toro Bravo

Bar at Toro Bravo

Pimentos de Padron

John Gorham

The concept: lots of little portions, tapa-style, which keep on coming until you're forced to howl ‘¡Bastantes!’


Stanley Moss is travel editor of Lucire.


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