I suppose the main takeaway from a relatively splurge-tastic meal at Toro, the expansive Chelsea hotspot and import from respected Boston chefs Ken Oringer and (newly-crowned James Beard Foundation Best Chef Northeast) Jamie Bissonnette, is that the food is honest. It is decidedly Spanish in influence, the food prime in its choice of ingredients, with a clear dedication to technique and some incorporation of international ingredients, particularly uni.
The restaurant is cavernous, and when we went it was packed with well-dressed and well-heeled people. There is a raucous vibe, halfway between the flashing-lights sheen of Tao and the txicholi-fueled camaraderie of a Basque tapas bar. It is a tapas restaurant, inflected through a lens that part Wall Street and part West Village. There was a pair of barely twenty-somethings making a mess of their porron glass, and our neighbors were discussing their love of their new X5 (compared to their Porsche Cayenne). That’s not the communal table companionship we were hoping for, but there is (by comparison) a row of seats around a mini-open kitchen (just the plancha). That would be a fun place to sit.
Bocadillo de erizos: pressed sandwich of sea urchin, miso butter and pickled mustard seeds. There was a rich undercurrent of melted oils, but the heat and the sturdiness of the bread meant that the uni was applied as a luxurious butter. I guess I appreciate the idea but at the end of the day still prefer uni as a cold orange shock of umami.Croquettas de jamon y cabeza: ham and pig’s head fritters.Patatas bravas: Maiz asado con alioli y queso cotija: grilled corn with alioli, lime, espelette and aged cheese. This was one of our favorite dishes of the night, not just because I love corn, but also because the alioli was pushing this concoction towards the buttery territory of creamed corn, but with a great blend of crunch, char, lime-sweet acidity, and espelette pepper. Sepia risotto en su tinta: cuttlefish, orzo, squid ink, goat cheese and jamon. Delicious. The closest thing that approached its Catalan inspiration, this was a visually beautiful mess of black ink and cuttlefish that was at once tender and crisp.Paella Valenciana: shrimp, mussels, clams, chorizo, chicken and calasparra rice. Our waitress pointedly told us to be unrestrained with the burnt rice at the bottom of the pan, to attack it with our spoons. Good advice, as tomato, mollusk juices, and chicken and chorizo drippings cooked to a crisp are just plain awful delicious. Oh, and churros.The meal had its ups and downs, and there were a few fantastic highlights, especially the cuttlefish, corn, and paella. You can’t fault a restaurant for being successful, and for being able to charge what it charges, but for what it was, the food was too pricy. I can infer that there’s some damn high-quality ingredients going on at Toro. At some point, if I make it back, I’m definitely focusing on the plancha portion of the menu. At some point.