Monday, January 07, 2008

A new year. New tastes. New writing.

Wednesday was my twenty-ninth birthday.

Toro bravo, from what I remember*: The night began with a toast of Cava rose (in authentic Spanish tapas bar fashion, all of their glassware is stemless, which is cool, except that they have bowls like wine glasses, where they should’ve just gone all the way with the flat bottom or more of a water glass style. Champagne poured in stemless is just kinda wrong aesthetically...but it still tasted great!).

The food impressed all my friends to no end. Tiny crab cakes shaped like scallops that were almost pure crab, accompanied by a fresh in a lemon dill aioli. House pickled olives and vegetables to nibble, infused with a red pepper that coated the tongue. Super-fresh clams in a garlicy broth with spicy homemade chorizo AND bacon/pancetta chunks. Roasted pork that was shredded and served with pickles and toast (this dish actually tasted like kalua pig, and looked like it too--one of the owner’s old partners is from Hawaii—i wonder...). Radicchio salad all beautifully purple and simple, with shaved cheese and some incredible creamy dressing--fresh, crunchy, bitter, salty. There was that other salad...meatballs with stewed tomatoes, fried chickpeas with smoky paprika, affogatto, chocolate souffle, two bottles of Rioja...a big wooden table...oh man, my favorite: harissa roasted winter squash with some kind of melted white cheese (soft? goat?) oh my god was I mopping my bread in that!! So incredible. The sweet of the squash, the deep smoky spice of the harissa, the creamy cheese... i could’ve eaten that whole stoneware dish myself. Soft bread that most people would’ve enjoyed with that good green olive oil, but which I used to drag over each plate—even the aioli! Hey, it was my birthday, and damnit, I’d clean a plate of homemade mayonaise if I wanted to! Amazing friends, good laughs, great time.

FYI: Toro Bravo was voted Portland’s best new restaurant of the year. This was my second time there, and far more delicious and memorable. We were originally quoted a 2 hour wait, but it turned out to be much less, and, well, that’s where that Cava came in. Also notable—John Gorham, the chef/owner was one of the founding partners in Viande meats (Portland’s premier butcher shop/meat guys. They make the best bacon, salami, etc.), which subsequently spun-off into Simpatica catering & dining hall (some of the best brunch in P-town). These guys know their pork.

*Regretfully (and totally unlike me), I cannot take any responsibility for the accuracy of my flavor discernment. I was just enjoying my wine and the overall sensory experience too much to pay attention to specifics. I think I remember some dill, but hey, that aioli might have been tarragon. The pickles? No idea what made them so good. Come on, it was my birthday, and many toasts were had. Actually, the first, which is worth mentioning, was at Vault martini bar, a place which I have to commend for mixing excellent cocktails, with fresh squeezed juices and infusions at only 4 bucks a pop for happy hour (between 4:30 and 7. It’s in the Pearl at 12th and Everett). 4 bucks! I had a “Wicked Gimlet” (their booklet of a drink menu is a fun read)—gin, lemon/lime juice and mint, shaken & served up. Mmm...and that’s the point when the tastebuds started a’ tinglin’ (and began to get a little confused).

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