Tag Archives: tapas

All About the Culture: Tremendous Tapas at Toro

On April 12, 2009, I ate at Toro for the first time. It was Easter, and my family was in South Boston, and my mom had seen it as we drove by. Six years later, and I have met and interviewed Chef Jamie Bissonnette, cooked with a chef who used to work at Toro, and eaten at Toro many, many more times.

Now, a confession: I haven’t actually eaten at Toro NYC (though I have been to the space), Chefs Jamie Bissonnette and Ken Oringer’s latest venture (an offshoot of the original Boston Toro). However, most of the dishes are similar, and I trust these two chefs enough to recommend the New York location. I trust Pete Wells, too, who reviewed Toro NYC for the New York Times and wrote “I can’t remember what we were eating at Toro, the new tapas restaurant in far western Chelsea, when one of the people at my table looked up in wonder….But I remember his smile and his question: ‘How can a place this big have food this good?’”

Wells is right. The food is damn good. When I talked to Bissonnette, he remarked that he thought “good art” (in terms of food) was if someone returned from Toro saying “Oh my god, the food at Toro was so good; I ate too much.”

What he didn’t know is that this has happened every time I’ve gone to Toro. Bissonnette and Oringer have a touch for these Spanish-inspired tapas that is just brilliant. The combinations of flavors showcased on Toro’s instagrams, both Boston and NY, are just brilliant: schnitzel with Serrano, idizabel, mustard, and pea greens. Whipped foie butter with tangerine and chestnut mostarda. The DTF.

Bissonnette also mentioned that a restaurant wasn’t just about the food; “It’s about the dining room, it’s about the culture.” Toro has drawn crowds from its opening night in New York, bringing a young, lively, hip group of eaters to the former Nabisco factory in Chelsea. And while it may be all about the culture, in his mind, it’s all about the food in mine.

I like to think I know a fair amount about food—and I do. But talking to Jamie Bissonnette, it became clear how much I have to learn. I left the Toro NYC space—which is gorgeous—feeling like I knew nothing about food. It wasn’t as if Chef Bissonnette had made me feel stupid; in fact, quite the opposite. However, the way he pulled extremely specific examples—at one point, he cited a “stew of chickpeas, chorizo, and blood sausage” as if that was everyone’s go-to example—from thin air showed a level of expertise with food I can only hope to achieve someday. And it is this expertise which allows him to create such incredible combinations of food, and hire chefs and cooks who will as well.

The food is also incredibly colorful and photogenic. Honestly, I don’t know how they do it. My mind is blown every time I eat there. Here are some of my favorites, all offered at Toro NYC:

Hamburguesas - Grass fed mini burgers with smoked tomato, aioli and pickled red onion
Hamburguesas – Grass fed mini burgers with smoked tomato, aioli and pickled red onion

Oh, these are so good. Small enough so that you don’t get tired. The aioli, tomato, and pickled onion are incredible complements.

Atun Crudo - Yellowfin tuna with white soy, spicy cucumbers, citrus and avocado
Atun Crudo – Yellowfin tuna with white soy, spicy cucumbers, citrus and avocado

Another classic. Sometimes the citrus is yuzu, sometimes it’s lemon, but it’s always good.

Tartar de Atun - Tuna tartare with stuff that we really like
Tartar de Atun – Tuna tartare with stuff that we really like

I can never tell exactly what the “stuff” is, but they’re right to like it.

Pato Con Albaricoque - Smoked duck drumettes with apricot mustard glaze
Pato Con Albaricoque – Smoked duck drumettes with apricot mustard glaze

Sweet, tender, duck-y (duck is my favorite poultry) these were just amazing.

Boquerones - Marinated‎ white anchovies in vinegar and olive oil
Boquerones – Marinated‎ white anchovies in vinegar and olive oil

I’m usually not even a fan of anchovies, so I’m not sure why we ordered these.

I am now a fan of anchovies. These were not fishy or bony, and the spices complemented the fish perfectly.

Patatas Bravas - Fried potatoes with aioli and spicy tomato sauce
Patatas Bravas – Fried potatoes with aioli and spicy tomato sauce

You can’t go wrong with fried potatoes, and even for fried potatoes these are really, really good.

Jamon de Pato - Aged duck ham
Jamon de Pato – Aged duck ham

I’ve never heard of duck ham. This is just plain great.

When I went over spring break, I had one of the most beautiful dishes I’ve eaten in a while: Asado de Huesos; roasted bone marrow, served with oxtail marmalade and toast, with citruses and radishes. At Toro NYC they make this with beef cheek instead of oxtail.

Asado De Huesos - Roasted bone marrow with radish citrus salad and oxtail marmalade
Asado De Huesos – Roasted bone marrow with radish citrus salad and oxtail marmalade

That is just art, both visually and gustatorily.

Chef Bissonnette, Chef Oringer: I don’t know how you do it. But what I do know is this: at your restaurants, you make good art.




85 10th Ave; (212) 691-2360

Atmosphere: Open, casual, upbeat, young.

Sound Level: Loud.

Recommended Dishes: Hamburguesas, asado de huesos, patatas bravas

Price Range: $$

Hours: 5:30-11 Mon-Wed; 5:30-12 Thurs-Sat; closed Sunday

Reservations: OpenTable


Cadaqués, a perfect place to sample and indulge

The Tortilla Minute

I consider tapas synonymous with the beginning of what will become a late Spanish summer night out.

That is, if you are eating quality tapas with a quality crowd.

The latter portion is up to you, but the former is basically guaranteed if you end up dining at Cadaqués. As I reread that, I am wholeheartedly aware of the straight-out-of-an-add promotional tone it gives. They didn’t pay me to shower them with compliments. You have my word.

There is a DJ on popular nights-out, like Fridays. The music is trendy and offers a background beat. It is just loud enough that you know it’s playing , your mood is lifted, and you may want to wiggle a little in your seat, but you can still hear everything your friends are saying.

The drink menu is exquisite. Every cocktail looks, sounds and tastes sophisticated. The Picasso is a refreshing work of art to the eyes and the palate.

Tapas are meant to be shared. That is why a tapas outing requires good company. And by good, I mean open-minded and willing to get one of everything (or at least a variety of menu items). The less dietary restrictions, the better. The menu is a little bit misleading in that the “To Share” section sounds like it would be the tapas section, and the main courses section sounds like its items are meant for each guest to order individually. Both sections are actually tapas. The appetizer section has some items, such as soups, that are understandably meant for one person and other items, such as ceviche and tortillas, that are also share-friendly.

No portions are large enough to be the sole order of an individual. This means that the bill fills up faster than you think. The good news is that your stomach fills up gradually, and overeating is not something to worry about.

Tapas offer an eat-and-be-merry kind of dining style. Dishes are brought out in no particular order, other than the order in which they become ready. Usually one or two are brought out at a time, so patrons can really savor each bite.

Spanish Risotto

The Spanish risotto and tortilla minute are my favorites. The risotto is made with crispy rice that is coated with creamy tetilla cheese, offering a satisfying contrast. Other flavors include shrimp, asparagus, mushrooms, fennel and parsley. The tortilla minute is your classic Spanish omelet, which always contains potatoes and onions. You have the choice of making the omelet less standard, since it can be chorizo, morcilla or asparagus-filled. I recommend the chorizo for a slight smoky flavor.

For dessert, there are five items from which to choose. I advise going with five people, so that you can order every single one. Or, stomach and wallet permitting, do that with whatever number of people are in the group. The molten chocolate cake, while not gushing with lava, is still warm and soft inside. It is best eaten when scraped off in layers and mixed with vanilla ice cream. The apple empanadas are mini and fried packaged apple pies. They are not greasy, and they have a slight crisp. They come with plantain ice cream, which offers a slightly less sweet banana flavor.

Service is not always speedy, and your glass will most likely remain without water until you ask for some. BUT, when there was a little mix up (my friend’s pan con tomate bread slices were brought out without the manchego cheese) the restaurant gave us an unexpected gift. A server came over with a porró, a large glass drinking vessel filled with white wine, and demonstrated the proper way to drink from it. So the benefits far outweigh the little mishaps. And if you are lucky, your waiter will be a hybrid of Johnny Depp and James Franco.

Note: Cadaqués is also open for weekend brunch from noon-4pm. It accepts AmEx and cash only. There is an ATM machine inside in case you forget.  Cadaqués is on 188 Grand Street in Brooklyn.

Rincon Criollo

When you want to experience a little taste of Cuba without having to apply for a travel license, try out this edition of Hidden Gems…

If Rincon Criollo was in La Habana, it would be the neighborhood restaurant that families would frequent, old men would play cards in, and tourists would come to in minute numbers (only those who actively avoid tourist traps and befriend kind locals who are willing to offer the inside scoop). It radiates an aura of traditional and down-to-earth hospitality.

Cuba has a history infused with European and African elements. Rincon Criollo means Creole corner. Creole implies syncretic culture and ancestry. This can best be heard in the musical styles of Afro-Cuban son and salsa—with their unique blend of congas, percussion, brass and piano.

Creole can best be tasted in a restaurant like this one.

The ham croquettes, a typical Spanish tapa item, are a wise choice of appetizer. Every entrée comes with a side of rice and beans (or your choice of substitutes from the sides section of the menu). You will walk out of this restaurant full, even if you did not intend for that to be the case.

The yucca (cassava) comes crispy and fried or baked and drenched in a garlic sauce. It is one of their specialties, so you should try it in at least one form. The plantains are very well-prepared. The menu offers both a sweet (Madura) and savory (Verde) option.

The pan de pudin, a Cuban bread pudding, has an unexpectedly solid consistency. If you are not usually a fan of bread pudding because of its soggy characteristics, this is for you. If you like bread pudding to begin with, this will be a nice change. Flan is usually too syrupy for me, but this version is not. In case it was not clear enough, you would be doing yourself a large disservice by skipping dessert.

PS- If you want to give a friend a birthday celebration that is the perfect combination of hilarious, unforgettable and uncomfortable, make sure you let someone at the restaurant know. It becomes dark, there are flashing multicolored lights and a server wearing a ridiculous hat begins to sing, as the rest of the wait staff chimes in.

PPS- Rincon only accepts American Express & cash

Take the 7 to Junction Boulevard. It is in an area called Elmhurst, Queens’ unofficial Latino-town.