Date Night

Darling husband and I had a dinner date this week. We used a gift certificate given to us a LONG time ago to venture into one of Portlandia’s hot spots, Toro Bravo. We of the suburbs like to think we’re equally at home in the city, but we aren’t, not really. There’s messy parallel parking, shifty looking alleys, and people. So many people. (All right, there aren’t that many people in Portland, but you know what I mean.)

This particular restaurant is in North Portland – really just a hop and skip from Northeast – and in a nicer neighborhood full of up-and-coming dining spots and nicely remodeled older homes. Mostly nice. Some of the houses need love and some serious cash. One cannot build a wooden house in a damp climate and expect it will look the same after eighty or so years, can one?

After a 45 minute wait on a Wednesday night (I told you it was popular), we were seated at the bar next to the kitchen. Normally, I would ask for a real table, but I admit to being a little Food Network-y geeked out and eager to see the kitchen staff in action.

2013-07-17 19.40.47

This was our view. And just to the upper right about four feet away from us? A convection oven that even the prep-chef said was lava hot. I admit to some gentle glowing, and that’s all. I was not a sweaty mess. Nope.

Being in the back corner, we had very little light and an abundance of ‘Nobody puts Baby in the corner’ jokes. Poor darling husband had also forgotten his glasses, which combined with the dark led him to proclaim, ‘That’s it, I can’t read anything on the menu.’

2013-07-17 19.41.00And what an extensive menu it was. Here’s what we ordered, and keep in mind most of the plates were small and perfect to share: first, a salad of greens, roasted beets, paper-thin slices of summer squash, pepitas, breadcrumbs, and a creamy tarragon dressing I would sell a Tiffany bracelet to possess. It was fabulous. We also ordered a small dish of pickled veggies and olives. Very nice. And then we got a house-made salami plate. This made darling husband almost weep with joy, being the carnivore he is.

2013-07-17 19.55.12See? I told you it was dark. There was a chorizo, a salami, and a cured pork loin sliced so thin you could read through it. It was magical and perfect and even someone who’s kinda ‘meh’ about salami (me), liked each one. I’d order it again.

Our next course – seared scallops with crack/meth sauce and shredded fennel. I joke about the sauce – it was some kind of smoked paprika/remoulade/aoli . And since there were only three large scallops, we inhaled the dish before I remembered to take a picture. It was the first time I’d had rawish fennel, and it was a lovely accompaniment to the perfectly seared and tender scallops. Expensive, but so yummy.

Next we had something I’d read about but never experienced – fried green tomatoes. They arrived with a sauce that tasted like something made by Julia Child, impeccable and complicated but tasting so simple you’d never guess the layers of ingredients.

2013-07-17 20.11.38Both of us thought they were fine, but wouldn’t order again. Funny thing, darling husband said his first tomato was red under the cornmeal crust and tasted pretty blah without the sauce. When he tried the second one, which was actually green, he said there was much more flavor. Go figure.

Our final dish was paella. We expected a small plate with a couple of clams and a small piece of chorizo. We got something the size of a hubcap.

2013-07-17 20.31.17There were a bunch of tiny clams and mussels, an entire leg and thigh of chicken, two ginormous prawns, and chunks of chorizo in the spicy rice mixture. It was delicious, and filling, and more than enough for three or four people. Especially after the other things we’d ordered.

I will say that this was not a cheap meal, but we had no clue about the size of the small plates – small being everyone’s own perception – and we ordered the two most expensive things on that day’s menu. It wouldn’t be that hard to have a great meal for $20 per person. I think we would have skipped a couple of our selections had we known how large the paella would be. We also asked the people sitting next to us what their favorite items are (because it wouldn’t be me if I didn’t share with strangers, would it?), and they gave us some suggestions for the future.

Two thumbs way up, Toro Bravo. Your kitchen staff works their collective ass off, and it comes through in the food. Definitely worth the horror of parallel parking and a half-hour drive.

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