Headed out to dinner with my brother and the lovely w- at the new tapas bar, Toro Bravo, on NE Russell. Much food and much wine later, we decided to halve the effort (oh, the effort!) and, rather than writing individual posts, we'd write it up together and see what happened. The result follows, so let us know what you think, if it's worth repeating or whatever .02 you'd like to throw in!
BB: So what were your impressions on walking in?
KAB: I liked it immediately. It was very warm and welcoming and had a nice buzz of conversation.
BB: It did have a nice vibe. And they were friendly about the wait. But apparently we were we only ones who didn't know about the call ahead policy. [If you call ahead they'll put your name on the waiting list and you show up a half hour later. Nice for parties of more than two.]
KAB: It was nice that they thought of providing places for people to wait, too.
BB: I liked the sneaky little side room (right). It'd be a good place to hide.
KAB: Yes, the corridor, the trysting place! It's nice to have the option to wait in the corridor, at the little bench we sat at, at the standing tables. And you can actually get started on drinks and food before you get your table.
BB: I know, it's all part of their master plan...get a couple drinks and apps on the bill while people are waiting. A good idea on their part, I have to say! And it's nice not to be in the way or have people tripping over you while you wait. It's well thought out in a way that other places sometimes aren't. And the drinks were good...a decent 'tini. And your Casa-rita was pretty tasty.
KAB: Quite good. And the prices of the drinks were pretty reasonable, too.
BB: About what you'd find elsewhere. They seemed a bit slow in coming, but that may have had something to do with how busy they were.
KAB: It'd be worth a trip back in a month or so to see if they've figured it out.
BB: I agree, and maybe then there will be more bread on the tapas plate. What's up with serving two half slices of baguette for four people to share? Their version of bread rationing, perhaps?
KAB: That was just silly. A couple of slices of young manchego (not the older, more expensive reserva) and three slices of chorizo for $6? For that price they could easily have done four slices of each, I mean, really. And that sherry jelly was too strong for it...it would have been much better with membrillo (quince paste). But then the fried anchovies (left, below) came...
BB: Yummm! Those were perfect...crisp, fresh...and the fried lemon was a nice set-off.
KAB: I've never had deep fried lemons before. They were a revelation. And the romesco sauce on the bottom was a nice surprise. Set off the fried things quite nicely.
BB: I know...not too spicy, just as it should be. And for $4 a good deal! All the tapas plates (besides the chorizo), were well priced. The kitchen seemed to be working well too. We never had to wait for things. And I've never had salt cod fritters (right, below) like that...wow! That's a dish to put on the "crave" list!
KAB: They were the highlight of the meal, for my money. Our neighbor (who went there last week) said one bite and she was transported back to her childhood in Brazil.
BB: I like that...both the chilhood in Brazil and the memory. I can't say the same about our childhood in Redmond...hmmmm.
KAB: I sometimes longed for a non-middle-class American childhood. Exotic locations, other languages, cool food. Tuna casserole and Spanish rice just didn't quite have the same appeal.
BB: I know. It seems funny that, based on what we grew up with, we both somehow came away with this appreciation for really good food.
KAB: Not that we noticed. We always scarfed down whatever Mom made.
BB: It was good. Straight outta Ladies Home Journal!
KAB: And Betty Crocker's cookbook. "Open a can! Get out the box! Just add water..."
BB: So did you think we got good value? Whenever I've gone to "small plates" places, the bill always adds up so quickly.
KAB: I think some things were a great value. Like the anchovies and the fritters.
BB: The oxtail croquettes were good, but maybe not $14 good.
KAB: How about the crab dish (left)? I thought that was really good.
BB: For $7 I thought it was really good, too. It was described as "crab and pork croquettes with salsa verda and roja." Crab and pork...an unholy food marriage if I've ever heard of one!
KAB: Yes, that was very tasty...had that full-on crabby taste that's so often missing from crab cakes or other crab dishes.
BB: Spanish surf and turf! What a great combo...very original. The wine list, by the way, had some nice deals. Very fairly priced with lots of under-$30 choices.
KAB: I loved that Petalos. Very food-friendly.
BB: It is a GREAT food wine. It's from the Bierzo region made from the Mencia grape.
BB: How very Castillian of you! So overall a pretty good hang; comfortable, friendly, some good things if you choose carefully.
KAB: Go for a "lite" supper, a nice bottle of wine. And sit at the bar.
BB: That's it! Those small plates seem made for nibbling at a bar. Oh wait, that's right..."tapas BAR!"
KAB: OK, so next time get a bottle of the Petalos, the radicchio salad, a plate of anchovies, the salt cod and the crab. How much would that be?
BB: It would be $52...that would be a nice meal!
KAB: So, having been to Spain recently, you felt it was pretty authentic?
BB: I thought it was. Some of the dishes like the crawfish boil and maybe the oxtail I wouldn't expect, but the others seemed to fit in with my expectations.
KAB: And the atmosphere wasn't your typical Portland foodie hangout, either. The open kitchen, the noise of the room, small tables close together. It felt more European to me. Plus the blood red walls. Very Spanish.
BB: I liked how the cooks are at the head of the room, looking out over the restaurant. Kind of a focal point. These are the perfect places to go with several people, to share lots of tastes...otherwise it could be frustrating.
KAB: I don't know about that. I think a crowd is fine for sampling, but I could see going there for a relatively reasonably priced dinner at the bar on one of those I-don't-feel-like-cooking nights.
BB: I can see that. My comment probably stems more from my need for MORE! I hate to think I'm missing anything, but then one can always return.
Details: Toro Bravo, 120 NE Russell St. Phone 503-281-4464.