Elizabeth Ginsburg, MBA Class of 2014
A lot of people roll their eyes at the tapas and small plates trend. There is no shortage of mediocre tapas restaurants and if you’re not a sharer then you’re definitely not a fan. Some people say small plates are overplayed, or you may find it cumbersome because you never know exactly how much to order. For this reason, I’m hesitant to characterize Toro, a newly opened restaurant on West 15th Street at 11th Avenue, as just a tapas restaurant. Point being, yes, Toro is a tapas restaurant, but it is one that warrants getting excited about.
A little background: this is the second location for Toro. The original is located in Boston’s South End. Without sounding too obnoxiously like a New York elitist, I think most people would agree that a restaurant has to be something special if it expands from Boston to NYC. If you asked a Boston resident about their favorite places to eat out, it’s highly likely they will name Toro, or at the very least be familiar with it. It is headed up by Ken Oringer and Jamie Bissonette, two of Boston’s most beloved chefs. Their adoration is well-deserved. In addition to being highly skilled and creative in the kitchen, they are two of the nicest chefs around, despite being wildly successful.
The Boston location of Toro is small and fairly dark, and they do not take reservations. The New York location is several times bigger with a much more open feel thanks to high ceilings and abundant natural light. Luckily for us, this location takes reservations, though they are in high demand.
A group of four of us (shout out to my awesome meat-eating dining companions, Turchese, Adam and Brad) visited on Friday the week they opened. Another thing that Ken Oringer and Jamie Bissonette’s restaurants are known for is their excellent staff- genuinely friendly, helpful and just really nice to talk to. Our server that night was all of the above. And I actually recognized another server there from Coppa, Jamie Bissonette’s other restaurant in Boston. She made the move from Boston to New York when the new restaurant opened, which I feel is a testament to the relationship the chefs maintain with their staff.
One thing I like about tapas is that you don’t have to order all at once, so as soon as we were seated, I requested two dishes I knew I wanted: Spanish tortilla with aioli and maíz asado – grilled corn with aioli, lime, espelette and cotija cheese. The latter is one of Toro’s signature dishes. You pretty much have to order it if you go. Grilled sweet corn is slathered in a rich and spicy mixture of aioli and cotija cheese. The lime juice provides the perfect sour-acidic finish to cut the richness of the aioli. It’s so good it warrants going just for that alone. Grab a seat at the bar one night and order the maíz and a cocktail.
The cauliflower and kohlrabi with pine nuts, golden raisins, and smoked paprika was possibly my favorite dish of the night. The kohlrabi is tender and sweet and the cauliflower caramelized but still slightly crunchy. Golden raisins and a vinegar-y dressing provide a nice sweet and sour finish to the dish.
Another specialty of Toro’s is offal, and so my companions wisely opted to try the roasted bone marrow with radish citrus salad and beef cheek marmalade. Grilled bread provides the perfect vehicle for the marrow, which Brad described as “unctuous.”
Twice during our meal, the kitchen sent over a dish on the house. One was the shisito peppers with sea salt. The peppers were smoky, silky in texture and mild. They are served with a side of aioli for dipping (you will likely consume a lot of aioli if you dine here. It’s worth it). The other dish was the radishes with miso, butter and scallions. This was a close second behind the cauliflower in terms of best dish I had that night. The radishes are cut small and cooked until meltingly soft. The miso sauce makes for an excellent sweet and salty combo that was perfect for dipping bread in once the radishes were gone.
Other dishes we tried include heirloom carrots with buttermilk, dill and harissa, marinated white anchovies, jamón serrano, griddled garlic shrimp with cascabel chiles, and smoked duck drumettes with quince glaze. Not a single dish disappointed.
We ended the night with churros and a dense chocolate mousse. The churros were a tad crumbly but the chocolate sauce they came with was lovely with a hint of orange. The mousse was a standout, a dense, brick of chocolate, closer in texture to a ganache, accompanied by a not-very-sweet olive oil ice cream and sprinkled with sea salt.
The drinks should definitely not be overlooked. Turchese and Adam chose the Casal Figueira from Portugal and Brad ordered the verdad & amor with tequila, hibiscus, ginger and lime. The wine list is organized into categories like “Crisp & Zippy” and “Rich & Round” for the whites, and “Dark & Lean” for the reds. I’ll leave it to the experts to do a full review (Personalitini, want to pay Toro a visit?).
Bottom line, Toro is phenomenal. Outstanding food and drink, excellent service, and an attractive setting. I highly recommend trying it.
85 10th Avenue (Entrance at 11th Avenue)