Portland, Night 1: The Secret Society & Toro Bravo

Our first night in Portland landed on what is invariably one of the busiest dining-out nights of the year: Valentine’s Day. We had originally made reservations at a fancy white-tablecloth restaurant, but after some thought, we nixed that in favor for something more playful and Portland-esque. At around 7:30 pm, we arrived at John Gorham’s famous Toro Bravo, gave the hostess our number, and were told to expect a table three hours out. We were prepared for an obscene wait and so happily retired to the bar upstairs to bide our time.

The Secret Society is a bar, venue, and music studio that happily takes in the restless souls queuing up at Toro Bravo. There was a short wait, during which we peeked in at a performance at the attached dance hall. Once we got into the bar proper, we nursed excellent drinks, snacked on way-too-addictive popcorn, and occupied valuable real estate for two hours. Fortunately, the folks behind the counter are used to lingerers and were incredibly friendly.

After two and a half hours, Toro Bravo seated us at their bar… and let me tell you, it was absolutely worth the wait. The menu is impressive in both scope and flavor, so we decided to go with the prix-fixe chef’s selection — an incredibly great deal at $30 a person. Bold, flavorful, unique, fun, and diverse with meat and vegetarian-friendly dishes alike… it was all so good.

Octopus a la Plancha “Becerrita”: we ordered this based on our bartender’s recommendation. Moral of the story: take your servers’ suggestions seriously. This was an incredible explosion of flavors, setting the scene for the next plates perfectly.

Roasted Spanish nuts: I had to stop myself from finishing off this bowl of bar snacks. Find the addictive recipe at Lottie + Doof.

Bread with butter & olive oil: this would ordinarily cost you a buck off the menu, and it’s easy to see why — that’s some quality b&b. Be careful not to get too full on this, however, as there is so much to follow…

Radicchio Salad with green olive toast & manchego vinaigrette: a total umami-fest and Toro Bravo classic.

Griddled Bacon Wrapped Date with warm honey: a solid rendition of the salty-sweet amuse-bouche.

Sherry Chicken Liver Mousse: the pairing of red beet with rich, slightly-sweet mousse was decadent and addictive.

Sautéed Spinach with pine nuts & golden raisins: a simple but tasty palate-cleanser.

Drunken Pork with fresh shell bean stew: Jay could not get enough of this dish. The pork is doused in juniper and gin and wrapped in smoky bacon, making for some over-the-top savoriness.

Octopus a la Plancha “Becerrita”: the grilled octopus that we’d ordered separately made another appearance on the chef’s menu… but we definitely weren’t complaining.

Meatballs with tomato-almond sauce & english peas: flavor bombs! We found ourselves scraping the bottom of the bowl for the last drops of sauce.

Harissa Stewed Butternut Squash with sheep’s cheese: difficult as it is to choose, this would have to be my favorite dish of the night. There is some serious sorcery at work here! Luscious, faintly sweet butternut squash is spiced and cooked until melty and magical.

Roasted Eggplant & Lamb Ragu with sweet peppers & mahon: so good, even underneath that thick layer of cheese.

Oh, reliving this dinner is a whirlwind. The seemingly endless assortment of plates came out in dizzying rushes, but servers were always happy to explain what, exactly, we were tasting. I’d definitely recommend going with the chef’s choice menu, if only to sample all that deliciousness. The only downside that we were so darn stuffed by the end of the meal, we had to pack up the last two plates. If leftovers are the worst that this place can do, I’d happily return to brave the wait.

The Secret Society
116 NE Russell St
Portland, OR 97212
secretsociety.net

Toro Bravo
120 NE Russell St
Portland, OR 97212
www.torobravopdx.com

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One thought on “Portland, Night 1: The Secret Society & Toro Bravo

  1. Pingback: best bites of 2014 | yours, julie

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