I’d heard many great things about Toro, Ken Oringer’s Barcelona-style tapas joint in the South End and, having already had a wonderful meal at Toro’s Italian sister enoteca, I decided the other night to try it out with a friend. It was finally the right time to do so, as this friend had recently gotten back from a trip to Madrid and was already feeling that all too familiar pang of nostalgia about the cervecerias he had visited there and the small plate numnums he had gotten pretty intimate with.
The place was packed on Thursday night at 9pm and, judging from the expression of the hostess, had been that way for a while. The wait was estimated to an hour for the dining room and the bar was full too, with a line of people patiently waiting behind those lucky enough to be seated. No big deal though because both my friend and I prefer sitting at the bar, rather than a lonely private table anyway. We got some fernet and cokes to hold onto while we waited.
As I strolled to the back end of the restaurant to hang my coat, I took a peek into the kitchen, which was directly across from rack and immediately noticed something gazing back at me. A beautiful Iberico ham was winking and blowing kisses straight in my direction. As I stood there, eyes wide open and feet rooted to the ground with fangirl adoration, it whispered seductively, “Yeah, I’m on the menu. See you very soon ;)” When I saw that ham and the myriad of beautiful dishes flying out of the open kitchen, I knew the place was worth the wait. We actually ended up waiting only about 10 minutes before we got a seat and, having finished our fernet, ordered the Tempranillo off the well-arranged and exclusively Spanish wine list. Then came the tough part, what to order at a place where everything looks amazing. We opted for 2 hot dishes and a ham. While I very much enjoyed everything we had, I will need to go back to Toro soon to add to this review a few words about the beautiful Maíz Asado con Alioli, Mollejas with blood orange, and garlicky Navajas razor clams I saw shooting out of the kitchen.
Jamon Iberico de Bellota. The ham had been right. I could not resist ordering it after just one peek. Oh how I love that fat, acorn-eating, black creature! The stuff was deliciously fatty on the sides, oily and slippery smooth on the surface, salty and funky in flavor from the curing process. Sliced very nicely into paper thin sheets which melted on the tongue rather easily.
Bistec De Faldilla A La Plancha. As I sat close to the open kitchen, I saw an order of this dish go out to another guest and immediately knew to ask for it. The first bite left me speechless. Incredibly juicy tips of hanger steak, cooked perfectly to medium with a beautiful black char on the outside and still a tad bloody on the inside. It was cut expertly and consistently across the meat, with each slice being just enough for a juicy mouthful. It was served on a warm bed of sweet caramelized red onion marmelade, which had a very comforting, soft texture and a moisture which hydrated the exterior of the beef a bit, making every bite even more juicy. On top was an adorably perky little disk of Cabrales butter which was sprinkled with fresh green chives for some zing. The butter was whipped airy enough to melt over each forkful of warm meat, while the pungent and spicy blue cheese within the butter contrasted with the flavor of the beef, bringing out the meat’s natural sweetness. The acidity in the Cabrales butter also cut the sweetness of the caramelized onions, putting everything in place flavorwise. Truly a wonderful dish.
Asado De Huesos. Having heard of my affinity to bone marrow, a friend of mine recommended Toro’s version of it and I’m glad I took his advice in ordering this eerily beautiful dish. Served on a wooden board, a marrow bone split horizontally to allow for easy scooping (unlike the Bone Marrow and Beef Tongue dish at K.O. Prime, which it was otherwise pretty similar to) and roasted until the outside was bubbling hot and caramelized, sprinkled with coarse salt, parsley and smoked paprika. It was cooked to a point where the marrow was loose enough to slip away from the bone with a sole, deliberate nudge, yet was still firm enough to stay in lumps when spread on bread. As my dining companion had never had bone marrow before, I urged him to try it by itself on a piece of bread first and I did the same. It was wonderfully rich and fatty with that subtle beef essence I love so much lingering as an aftertaste. Alongside the bone was some crispy toast topped with braised oxtail, the fibers of which were crunchy on the exterior and soft on the inside. Sprinkled around the stuff were thin slices of radish and a few slices of mandarine tossed in a bit of citrus to add a much needed acidity to the dish. The idea was to mash a bit of the marrow onto the oxtail and top it with a bit of the radish and citrus salad. Each carefully assembled bite made my eyes close and stay closed up to the swallow. The fatty marrow melted like butter onto the drier oxtail, hydrating it, packing it with its own beefy flavor and breathing life into it in a way. The acidity of the crispy cool radish and citrus sliced the fattiness of the marrow in just the right spot, without overwhelming the oxtail at all. The flavors were in perfect ratio to harmonize and the textural contrast was spot on. A very well thought out and beautiful dish indeed.