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Jan 20, 2013 01:43 PM

Bravas Bar de Tapas in Healdsburg

Opened two months ago, Bravas Bar de Tapas (and the ancillary outdoor Bar Bravas) is the latest from the Stark Reality Restaurant group (Willi’s, et al) and but one of the crush of high profile new openings in the ‘burg in 2012. Serving continuously between lunch and dinner, this was the perfect spot to drop in for an afternoon snack.

Despite the jaunty neon red sign “Jamon In” that beckons guests from the sidewalk up the walkway to the open air Bar Bravas in back,
I opted to stay indoors and entered through the main door for the big reveal. I’ll confess that I forgot to look for a tell-tale haunch on the bar or any sign of the Jamon Iberico sliced to order promised in the pre-opening hype. Instead I was distracted by the transformation of the familiar homey atmosphere of the former Ravenous space into something decidedly angular and modern yet warm at the same time. When Ravenous closed, the Starks had said they’d keep the tangerine color scheme. The dining room’s shiny metal seats and chain-like space divider flashback to the go-go boot era though the orange glow cast by the tangerine shades softened the edge.

The orange-painted walls were preserved in the front alcove, now set with a table for six. And the tangerine color is repeated in the cheery quarter-fold single page menu.

On this chilly day, I asked for a seat at the pair of bar tables cozied up next to the fireplace.

Each table has a set of orange-tipped picks to share small plates.

My little table was quickly set with a carafe of drinking water, the easy to hold on to menu, and the ubiquitous reverse chic striped cotton napkin. I fixated on the “Warm Tapas” section of the menu, choosing two dishes to start.

Stewed chickpeas, morcilla, greens, fennel sofrito, $6 – When I learned that the morcilla (blood sausage) is made in house, my choice was easy. The soup bowl sized portion was piled high with fat chickpeas in a soupy base. Great textures to this dish . . .tender but not mushy garbanzos, open-knit soft discs of morcilla, and juicy crunch of escarole-like greens.

Taking a closer look at the morcilla and chickpeas details the elements that build up the nuanced flavors. The morcilla knocked me out . . . fine-tuned cure seasonings, clean and not liver-y nor metallic tasting. The sweet, slow-cooked flavors of the carrot and onions in the fennel sofrito and greens added bright balancing notes to the blood sausage’s earthiness. The brothy juices sparkled with natural sweetness and yes, were good to the proverbial last drop.

Dungeness crab fideuá, $10 – Prepped and presented in a paella pan with charred high points and topped with a big dollop of stiff alioli. Tiny filaments of crab blended with the short lengths of skinny fideuá (vermicelli-like pasta) cooked down with a pepper-y sofrito and seafood stock displayed a solidness to the texture that made me think of noodle casserole. The concentrated flavors of the first bite elicited a “wow”. The second bite demanded a big gulp of water to wash down the salt, and with the third one, I had to stop eating this for the sake of my blood pressure. When my server checked back to ask if I wanted the leftovers boxed up, I declined and asked her to let the kitchen know that someone slipped on the salt with this dish.

My bill was clipped to a lata. My server reported the chef agreed the fideuá was too salty and the charge was removed it from the tab.

After settling up, I checked out the bathroom, which had been problematic for Ravenous. Remarkably, two small restrooms have been squeezed into the space and the traffic flow to the kitchen streamlined in the remodel. Stepping out to the back, an inviting patio and more seating on ground level are furnished with heaters and I made a mental note to return on a sunny day for an outdoor table. Chef Taylor Bailey was starting mesquite charcoal to roast calçots in an open fire pit (made here with French leeks).

A lot of words for what turned out to be a $6 meal. Bravas is the “IT” Healdsburg restaurant of the moment, who else has been here?

420 Center Street
Healdsburg, California 95448
(707) 433-7700

Bravas slideshow

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  1. This gallery from Mariah Smith Photography shows the jamon iberico on the bar counter.

    1. how do people like willi's seafood and raw bar?

      1 Reply
      1. re: hungree

        Here's a link to the most recent reports on Willi's Seafood and Raw Bar.

        A year ago I found it scattered. David calls it serviceable.

        Have you been lately?

      2. A few weeks ago I stopped in at Bravas for a quick snack while driving through Healsburg and enjoyed the experience. The Tortilla Espanola was well made in the classic Spanish style (eggs, potatoes, onions and nothing peppers, no meat, no cheese...that is a frittata IMO). The salt cod fritters were also traditional (hot, puffy, fried balls of potato and fish) though they do not call them 'croquetas' in deference to the chicken croquetas which I did not try (yet!).
        The wine list seems to be a work in progress with some real Spanish gems assorted amongst the less interesting mass market brands. Spritzy Spanish 'needle wine' (Vino de Aguja) was refreshing, and perfectly matched to the tapas menu. I'm looking forward to returning to sample the full menu when time is not so tight.

        4 Replies
        1. re: flavorenhancer

          Thanks, how'd you know I really wanted to order the salt cod fritters . . . did you sit inside or outdoors? This is another great outdoor space that we can add to a list that includes Campo Fina, Barndiva, and Mateo's Cocina Latina.

          I'm looking forward to trying the wines too. The list has some nice sherry wines. The pre-opening press had mentioned the sideria concept, so I was disappointed to find not a single sidra (hard cider) on the list. Other Spanish restaurants have told me that they can't source the better Spanish ones in this country, maybe the same problem again.

          1. re: flavorenhancer

            We devoured the octopus, jamon, and duck meatballs - much to our delight; drinking ginger beer and cava at lunch; then ordered more, ending with a take-out box for the remaining last chicken croqueta - crisp crust, perfectly fried, with a creamy chicken center and the last 3 prawns encrusted with spices. All perfectly delicious.

            Have you had dessert? Ice cream? Nutella?

            1. re: Cynsa

              Nice. Did you sit inside or outside?

              Was that the Fermin Jamón Ibérico? I ask cuz I'd like to get a sense of how much $15 sliced to order buys.

              1. re: Melanie Wong

                We were inside for lunch at 11:30 am, lunch seating seems easy compared to long waits in the evening. Yes, that is the Jamón Ibérico in the photo and for the $15, very tasty.
                I want the pig ears and the salt cod next.

            1. Hi Melanie - do you think Bravas would work for a group of 5 for dinner? I'm noticing the restaurant looks mostly like smaller tables and the portions look like they are shareable for 2-3 max... I'm planning a birthday dinner here in November and feel unsure after seeing your (wonderful) photos! Advice appreciated :)

              3 Replies
              1. re: bobabear

                The table in the alcove in the front window seats six (see linked photo). I have not been back yet, but you're probably right about portion size. So as you would for dim sum with that size party, order two of most dishes. :)

                1. re: bobabear

                  In August we were there with a party of 6 (which became 7 after 45 minutes). We were seated on the patio which was both nice and comfortable.

                  We ordered 2X some of the dishes, others single when some of the group wanted to try.
                  Topped it off at the end of the meal with a paella which is the one "large" dish on the menu and it was plenty for all of us to share.

                  1. re: tom246

                    Great, thanks for the feedback! I'll keep my reservation for birthday dinner here :)