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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 else...no 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 :)

                2. Five of us went week before last, after a wine tasting at Banshee Wines very new, comfortable and homey/chic tasting room. We sat on the lovely patio on a warm, sunny day. We liked/loved everything we had:
                  Beets with cinnamon, walnuts and idiazabal, salmorejo, duck egg, clams, pan tomate, patatas bravas, duck bocadillo, pig ears, goat cheese toast, marcona almonds, pan oliva, crab fideua, and pork cheek bocadillos.

                  the stand-outs for me were the salmorejo and the beets. the tomato in the salmorejo was the freshest, most tomato-y thing i've had in years. drizzled with a lovely basil olive oil, i wish i'd ordered a second. the beets with their surprising dressing of olive oil and cinnamon were amazingly complex - the cinnamon played off the dirt-y taste of the beets. we all want to recreate this dish at home. the pan tomate was also exceptionally delicious, and more than the sum of its parts - rich and fruity and savory. reminded me of the best i've had in Barcelona - over 30 years ago. we all liked the crab fideua but for me i think i would have liked a little more crunch in the noodle, for contrast (the picture looks like they're crispy, but my memory is that the dish was rather mushy - tho not in a bad way). i think the duck meatballs were the only thing we didn't rave about - they were a bit one note. the pig ears - sliced into slivers - were a bit tough, but i finished them up. the patatas bravas were wonderfully done - perfectly crispy on the outside - too often i find them soggy from the sauce. these held their crispy exteriors while the fluffy insides soaked up the spicy sauce and aioli.

                  we also loved their sangria - not sweet at all but refreshingly tart. a table favorite of the cocktails was the Rye of the Tiger - Rye whiskey, curried cantelope marmalade, brandy and lemon - it had an almost creamy yet non-cloying sweetness. Also the Ponente - Botanist Islay dry gin, grapefruit, and star anise - proved refreshing and potent, as its name suggests.

                  there is still so much more on this menu to explore. i have to say this is my favorite of the Stark restaurants - over the years I've found the others have slipped in quality or failed to please from the start. and in comparison with our dinner late that night - at Chalkboard, which we found very uneven - i would have gladly gone back and tried more dishes. Service at Bravas was attentive and friendly, too. Bravas is a stand-out.

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: mariacarmen

                    To recreate the beets, be sure to use true Ceylon cinnamon, not the hotter, coarser Vietnamese cassia that is usually sold as cinnamon.

                    1. re: mariacarmen

                      thank you for the thorough report. your note on the Stark places (Willi's, no?) is particularly relevant for us. was prepared to give this place a pass, just based on an experience at Willi's (overall pretty popular on this board, and another reminder that the tastes of many 'hounds isn't reliable for me). now, we will try to fit it into the over stuffed list of places to eat in the area.

                      sangria has potential that one suspects gets rarely tapped. we had a version we'd happily drink anytime with this style of food that was built around a whole bottle of cava and fresh citrus.

                      1. re: moto

                        i definitely loved this place more than any of the Stark places, except maybe when the first one opened - which i do believe was Willi's.

                        Bravas had a cava sangria too, but i don't think we tried it. next time! we're slated to go back the day after thanksgiving. can't wait.

                        hope you enjoy, moto -report back!

                    2. Based on all the good reviews here, we just made a reservation for Bravas Bar de Tapas during our annual visit to the Bay area the week of Thanksgiving. Looking forward to it. Thanks!

                      4 Replies
                      1. re: ttoommyy

                        We went last night. We were bowled over! Having just been to Barcelona a few weeks ago, we had something to compare it to. Bravas was just as good as anything we had in Spain. The tortilla espanolla, the prawns a la plancha, the beet salad, the duck meatball slider, the dungenese crab fideua and the brussels sprouts.. All were excellent. We highly recommend this restaurant.

                        1. re: ttoommyy

                          ooh, so glad you loved it too! i'm going again friday!

                          1. re: ttoommyy

                            Glad you are enjoying your time in Sonoma.

                            We went to Bravas last week while we stopped in Healdsburg on our way to Anderson Valley in Mendocino.

                            I just want to add that the Happy Hour menu is a fantastic deal, we tried at least half of the items and took some leftovers. Also, since we have been having some excellent weather we enjoyed sitting on the back patio, which is dog-friendly, with our hound.

                            1. re: ttoommyy

                              Good to hear that you had a great time at Bravas. Now if they can only keep it up - Stark restaurants have a record of starting strong and then fading when kitchen staff turnover begins.

                              We're hoping to make another 2-3 day trip to Napa/Sonoma in early or mid-December, thinking of breakfast at Hole In The Wall and dinner at Bravas!

                          2. Went again and loved it. new things that we tried and were standouts were the almond gazpacho, creamy chicken croquetas, rioja braised oxtail, bacalao fritters and the lavender quail. we had a lot of repeats, because they were just so good last time. one complaint, food-wise - I didn't love the way they sliced their jamon iberico - a bit too thick, no finesse, and the meat suffered for it.

                            Oh, and we had a Barcelonian with us that day. He said the food was very, very good, but different. For instance, he said they would never serve an aioli or romesco with their tortilla de papa, as they did here, but serve it instead on top of the pan tomate (which I have heard of before). funny, because my Spanish tapas book at home has a recipe for tortilla with romesco... but i'd take his word for it, since it's been 30+ years since I've been to Spain.

                            they changed their cocktail menu (they will do that periodically) and their cocktails weren't quite as good this time as the last, but they were still very tasty.

                            we still love this place. planning a trip back to Banshee wines (right around the corner) in the Spring and I know we'll be on Bravas' patio again.

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: mariacarmen

                              In another thread you mentioned that you were a party of 11. How was the seating set up for your group?

                              1. re: Melanie Wong

                                we were out on the patio, at the very back, and they put 3 or 4 tables together. weather was perfect for it. I've only sat outside, so far.