Restaurant Guide 2013: Toro Bravo

120 NE Russell St., 281-4464,

[TAKE A BOW] There's a good reason that chef John Gorham's flagship restaurant is one of the longest-standing matadors in the tough arena of Portland restaurants. A meal here is a well-choreographed dance where you'll sit shoulder-to-shoulder with your neighbor, and yet not notice they're there. Your partner in this flamenco? Only the tapas. The griddled bacon-wrapped dates, grilled flatbread with truffled cheese and arugula, and any dish that has been touched with seafood will send your senses twirling. A rare misstep, especially in the tasting menu, is too much fried food: A recent meal included both salt cod fritters with aioli and also oxtail croquettes with spicy mayonnaise. Use them as flourishes and definitely over-order—the rhythm of plate after plate of decadence makes adding just one last taste of paella or house-smoked coppa steak worth the hour-plus wait on most nights.

Ideal meal: Sauteed calamari with white beans and parsley ($10); griddled bacon-wrapped dates with warm honey ($2 each); squid-ink pasta with hazelnuts, anchovy syrup and egg yolk ($13); house-smoked coppa steak with potatoes, olives, onions and salbitxada ($9).

Best Deal: The $16 pitcher of sangria fills a lot of cups, and $2 gets you a mouth explosion with the bacon-wrapped dates.

Pro Tip: Skip the $30 tasting menu, which relies too heavily on starches; you probably just waited an hour to get a table, so splurge a bit and go with what draws you.

5-10 pm Sunday-Thursday, 5-11 pm Friday-Saturday. $$-$$$.


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