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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.

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Toro:  

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

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