Today’s “Food for Thought Friday” entry comes a day late, but worth the wait.
My absolute, no questions asked, number one favorite restaurant in the whole city of Portland is actually a trio of restaurants owned by John Gorham. Toro Bravo, Tasty n’ Sons, and Tasty n’ Alder are a study in the three aspects of a perfect restaurant: 1) Tasty food. 2) Cooked perfectly. 3) Every time. Although the Gorham trio master each one of these aspects, number 2 is what makes them really sing. Whatever you order, whether you enjoy the flavors or not, will contain individual ingredients cooked exactly the way they were made to be cooked. When you eat an egg, you feel as if the egg knows that it fulfilled its maximum potential. The egg met its destiny on your palette. You’ll wonder how you never learned to cook an egg exactly like that.
The dish pictured above is my all time favorite dish, and two separate versions of it are available at each “Tasty” location. They start with a layer of polenta, which in itself is a revelation. If you’ve ever tried polenta or grits and wondered what the big deal was, you were missing out on a ton of flavor that needs to be layered into the cornmeal while it’s cooking. Tasty chefs add savory and creamy ingredients to the polenta, and just a hint of spice, which lead you to believe that you could finish a whole bowlful, even with nothing else on top. Lucky for us, they top it with either a ragu (an Italian sauce with ground pork served at the “Sons” location) or a sugo (a French sauce with shredded pork served at the “Alder” location), and then finish it with a slice of mozzarella, and a perfectly cooked over easy egg. Break the yolk to let it ooze over the top of your dish, and you have a meal you will never forget.
All three restaurants serve dishes in various sizes, and bring them out as soon as they are ready, which lends to more family-style dining. This is a bonus, because it means your table will usually end up ordering more dishes than people, and everyone will get a taste of everything. Toro Bravo is a dinner-only location, while the Tasty restaurants favor brunch entrees, though they are open all day. All three restaurants serve traditional American style food with twists of Spanish, Moroccan, Mexican, and even the occasional Asian fusion flare. The ambiance of the tasty locations is decidedly hipster, but don’t let that chase you away. The service is excellent, and they are happy to explain everything on the menu without making you feel silly for doing so. Toro Bravo is dimly lit with a beautiful red fiery atmosphere, though it is a little too loud for my liking. The service here is also excellent. They once made a mistake by calling us prematurely for our table. When they realized our table was not, in fact, ready yet, they made up for it in probably $50 worth of free food and drinks.
It is worth repeating that the best aspect of these three restaurants is their ability to cook each item exactly as long as it needs to be cooked. If you order the biscuit sandwich with egg, cheese, and fried chicken, the chicken will be perfectly crunchy on the outside and juicy on the inside. The egg will have a runny yolk and no burnt edges. The cheese will melt without the oil separation, and the biscuit will be perfectly buttery and soft with just a hint of crispness on the outside. If you order the scallops in romesco sauce at Toro Bravo, the scallops will be beautifully caramelized without drying out the insides, and the slightly spicy, hazelnutty, creamy romesco is the perfect accompaniment. What I admire most, is that you can count on consistently good food, every time, no matter the time of day or location…and isn’t that what we all look for in our favorite restaurant? You know exactly what you’re going to get. Good food. Every time.