TAPAS JOINTS SHOULD BE DEVOID of gimmickry. The music should be minimal, the banter quotient high, and the menu quite long and uncommonly enticing, such that diners find themselves ordering at least half, if not all, of its offerings. One should be able to move from fried fresh anchovies to salt cod fritters to marinated sheep’s cheese to paella to lamb chops in one slow, unfolding symphony, interrupted only by intermezzo swigs of robust Rioja wine.
For Portlanders, no tapas restaurant (of which there are few here) is deserving of such a description more than Toro Bravo, housed in a turn-of-last-century brick building next to the Wonder Ballroom. Before they opened the restaurant in May, John Gorham (see “Chef of the Year,” p. 102), formerly of Simpatica, and his wife, Courtney Wilson-Gorham, who ran the front of the house at Simpatica and before that at Paley’s Place, took a weeklong trip to Spain to research ideas for their venture. The result is an extensive menu that offers more than 40 Spanish-inspired and American-inspired small plates.
Despite the wealth of styles and preparations, however, the design of each of Gorham’s dishes remains decidedly masterful, from griddled shrimp with chiles to crab-and-pork croquettes or a house-smoked coppa steak with olive-oil-poached potatoes. With a deep red dining room crammed with communal and bistro-size tables, a jovial bar and a front-row chef’s counter, he’s managed to import not only the flavors of Spain but also the rambunctious conviviality of that country’s beloved tapeo, no gimmickry attached. 120 NE Russell, 503-281-4464