Toro Bravo III

How To Spend Lots Of Money At a Inexpensive Restaurant

I suppose it’s not too surprising this was a pretty small dinner at Toro Bravo, as it’s the third time I’ve taken Restaurant Roulette there, and most people attend the dinners to try out new restaurants. This is also actually the only restaurant RR has been to more than once, although I often think of places I would like to repeat, but there are just so many new places to visit all the time. I really love Toro Bravo though, and as I knew of at least one valued regular who had not darkened the TB doorstep, off we went. Unfortunately, since Toro Bravo is always slammed, and doesn’t have a normal reservation policy for groups (you have to give them your credit card, and they will charge you if a certain percentage or your party does not show up,) I made the dinner on an “off-night,” and really early as well, so a group of four was all I could eke out, especially after numerous cancelations from new folks. 50% of our group was new on this evening though, so that added a bit more fun to the situation.

Even before 5:30 in the evening, Toro Bravo was starting to pick up steam, and was about half full. As I suppose all the other empty tables for four were being saved for people on the waiting list who were next door at the bar having a drink, our group of four was seated at the end of one of the two or so tables Toro Bravo has that seats 10. It’s always weird when you are four sitting in a place for 10, but once the joint was jumping, every table was pretty much full, except for those tiny little round things behind the curtain, and the other end of out table, although towards the end people were sitting there as well. One thing I did notice on this particular evening at Toro Bravo is that this is the first of the four times I have been to TB when owner John Gorham was not in attendance, slaving over a hot grill. Maybe he actually gets evenings off too these days, since his restaurant has been such a tremendous success since the week it opened.

As alluded to before, although our group was tiny on this evening, it was at least a fresh bunch, with two new members joining us, Glee and Mike. (But keep in mind, I SO value my stale old regulars too, they keep the group afloat. And believe me, no matter how many times people join me at the dinners, almost everyone tends to come up with their share of fresh and lively conversation on occasion, even me, that one time at least.) Glee, who you will hear from a bit later with a review of her first RR dinner, was very enthusiastic about joining a dining group, and was a perfect newcomer, not only enjoying ordering various things, tasting various things, and sharing, but helping me comment on our evening. Mike was also quite a good addition to our group for this particular dinner, as he is of half Spanish parentage, and was born in Spain, perfect for a dinner at Toro Bravo. He also is employed in a profession I know a great deal about, computer graphics, so we had our share of conversation on that particular topic.

I rarely make any negative comments when the subject of Toro Bravo comes up, but at my fourth dinner there, I think I will say that their cocktail selection never appeals to me that much, and it always seems like the wine pours are relatively small. I suppose it could be an illusion, because TB uses those stemless wine glasses, so the visual presentation might come across differently, but I know our old friend Lynne, who loves TB as well, has told me she feels ripped off by the wine pours here.  My drink on this evening, a Violette 75, was in a very small, narrow, but attractively sculpted glass, and seemed rather small for $9, but it was plenty potent. Our pal DD told me after this meal that this was the only part of TB he didn’t think was great, the spirit selection, not only did they not have his “life giving Drambuie,” but their dark rum selection was not thrilling either (maybe he needs to start eating at more Puerto Rican restaurants!) Not only that, I think the waitress nearly gave him a heart attack by telling him his rum and coke was $9 (looking at the bill, it was actually $7.)

Beverage beefs aside though, one thing I have observed over all my visits, the food quality at Toro Bravo is amazingly consistent, and I should know, as I tend to order the same items over and over again, as I love them so much (although I also tried three other things this night, because of the sharing.) As David observed, one thing he has noticed about the small plates/tapas places (as the dinner just before had been at Tapalaya, also small plates,) these places get lots of food going in a hurry, and you are soon surrounded by a variety of dishes. I did rather notice the pace at Toro Bravo this Thursday, perhaps a tiny bit more accelerated from many fine dining places you go to, but not in a rude fashion, by any means, I think they just do what they can to make sure too many tables don’t drag, as there are almost always other people wanting to sit down and eat. In this vein, our server was quite professional and efficient, but she didn’t seem like she was trying to hurry us, or deprive us of dessert (I HATE IT WHEN THAT HAPPENS!)

Poor Glee, when she mentioned that she was a human resources specialist, but loved writing, you can just imagine how I leapt upon this fact … “OH GOOD … you can help me out with the review!!!” Sadly, it seems like each time someone joins the group and says they like to write, and would not mind helping me out, this person disappears almost immediately, or can only manage about one review. The only exception to this rule was our dear friend and web queen Marnie, I think she gave me a valuable something for almost every dinner she attended (maybe that’s why she’s vanished,) and I miss her input so, not to mention that lively little personality of hers, and that of the guy she always hung around with (now what was his name?) And good old Frank, he sends me contributions too on occasion. But as for this Glee woman, we’re going to try to not let her escape our clutches too soon, I can assure you of that.

On that note, here are Glee’s comments on her first evening out with Restaurant Roulette, unedited, to protect my ego …

“I don’t speak Spanish, so I’ll just say Toro Bravo means something like “yum yum.”  Of course our “hostess with the mostest” knows that … she can’t stop making reservations for RR.  It was my first time with RR, and I happened to mention I like to write, so I was quickly offered the opportunity to say something about the evening and about Toro Bravo.

TB has wonderful food at reasonable prices.  We all shared the tapas.  The Marinated Sheep’s cheese (which had been marinated with rose petals and mint) was delicious.  It was mild – you knew it was sheep’s cheese but it didn’t knock you out.  My favorite was the French Kisses – brandy soaked prunes stuffed with foie gras.  We also shared radicchio salad and griddled bacon wrapped dates with warm honey.  Three of us ordered the house smoked coppa steak and the fourth (me) ordered Moorish lamb chops.  The steak was delicious.  The lamb wasn’t quite as good, but the warm potato and chorizo salad that came with the lamb was really good!  After all the food that kept rolling out, only one person ordered desert – the lemon crepe – but four forks were ready when it arrived, and it was the perfect ending to a great meal.

As a RR “newbie” I’m thrilled to have found this group.  There were four of us – less people than usual I gather, but no shortage of good conversation and laughter.   Combined with wonderful food, it’s a winning combination.  I’m looking forward to becoming a regular RR!  Thanks, Jackie, for putting this together and keeping it going!!”

                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Thank you Glee, especially for noticing what a talented hostess I am (but after all, some things are so self-evident!) Seriously though, perhaps her wine was just a bit too strong.

As Glee alluded to, there were quite a few things floating around on our table to try, David getting the Paprika and Manchego Fritters, Glee kindly footing the bill for French Kisses for all of us (???) and myself, unable to resist as always the Marinated Sheep Cheese with rose petal harissa and mint (basically the only sheep cheese I like, so mild) also decided I should get an order of the Grilled Bacon Wrapped Dates, as I had tried one at the last TB dinner, and remember it was really delicious. This is the type of thing Toro Bravo does so well, combining fruit and meat, sweet and salty (also the case with the French Kisses.)

David asked me what was good, perhaps because the Toro Bravo menu has become so immense it’s rather daunting, and looking it over, it did have almost 50 items, split between Pinchos, Charcuteria, Tapas, and Paellas, and ranging in price from $1 to $19 for a paella. That’s what makes Toro Bravo so tough for someone like me, as I love the marinated sheep cheese and Coppa Steak so much, and always order them, I never make it very far into the menu, especially as the coppa steak is one of the richest beef preparations imaginable. As I knew David often likes to begin with a salad, I suggested we could share the Radicchio Salad with green olive toast and manchego vinagrette, a salad that was not only big enough for two of us, but all four of us at the table (and when we were finished, there was some left over.) This salad is one reason why I keep complaining about the price of many of the salads around town, very often you pay $9 and get a salad that is just adequate for one person, but at Toro Bravo you pay $9, and you get this delicious, mild radicchio salad that serves four people. 

I guess I oversold the Coppa Steak, as three out of four of us had it for the main part of our meal (although it seemed like Mikey had decided without my influence,) and Glee sounds like she would have liked it too. The actual menu description is House Smoked Coppa Steak with olive oil poached potatoes, chopped olives and salbitxada, the potatoes being a tiny portion that are more than adequate when paired with this incredibly hearty beef. As I mentioned previously, the Coppa Steak is actually a roast affair. which is smoked in a hunk, charred on the grill, then cut into thick slabs for serving. Anyone who eats beef at all should really try the Coppa Steak at least once, the incredible smokey tenderness gives it a flavor like no other steak I’ve ever had, and it’s a good deal at $14, you have a really filling meal when combined with about 1/4 of a big honkin TB salad. David and Mike had high praise indeed for the Coppa Steak, and I think all the food at Toro Bravo, and as Glee also mentioned, the beef put her lamb to shame, although she was certainly awed by how much lamb she got for one tapas serving (I think it was two lamb chops.)

Naturally, I was that one glutton who had to order dessert as well, mainly because I’ve been inspired by lemony desserts lately, so wanted to try the Lemon Curd Crepes – $6. As the waitress wisely brought four forks, I was glad to share, as I had already had quite a lot of food, small servings or not with the Pinchos, and Glee immediately got her fork ready, and didn’t put it down after the first bite (see what I mean about this woman fitting in perfectly.) David also enjoyed a couple of bites of these lovely light pancakes and tangy lemon filling, although Mikey demurred, obviously still not totally in sync with the waist expanding lifestyle that can be yours as a member of Restaurant Roulette.

By and large, everyone seemed incredibly satisfied with their first meal at Toro Bravo (and me, with my fourth,) and I think all agreed the prices were reasonable for a dining house of this quality, although I piled my bill a bit overly high getting perhaps too into the spirit of things with a cocktail, two pinchos, 1.5 major size tapas, and dessert, but still, even with all of this, my bill was around $40. Toro Bravo remains as good as it was the first time I went there, however, I must observe, it’s more fun to eat at Toro Bravo in the summer than the winter, because on a cold evening, with the glass door, old building, and all the windows at the front, it can be a somewhat chilly eating experience. We sat about 1/2 the way back in the restaurant, and a couple people had to keep putting their coats back on. This is a place that would benefit from some sort of double door or curtained entryway. as the chill can be a mood breaker, and I don’t think even Galicia gets this cold, even if it is the Scotland of Spain (I swear, they have bagpipes there.)