As I recently mentioned, I love the small plates concept and I am sure I am not the only one. Luckily, there are plenty of excellent, local restaurants that offer small plates to please your palate. I had the exquisite pleasure to dine at one of them this past Monday night and all I can think about is that I want more corn!
If you enjoy Spanish tapas, then you need to visit Toro, Ken Oringer's South End restaurant. I have previously been to Toro for both brunch and lunch, but never before for dinner until Monday. It was quite crowded when my fellow food writers/bloggers and I arrived so we had to wait for a table. We were though able to grab a couple of stools at the bar and get some drinks while we waited.
Toro has an excellent Spanish wine list with a good variety available by the glass. You can find wines from many different regions of Spain, and not just the usual Rioja and Priorat. They also have various specialty cocktails and beer. As they did not have any Txacoli available, I ordered a glass of the delicious Laxas Albarino, a crisp and fruity white wine.
Chef Jamie Bissonnette, who will be one of the chefs at the Cochon 555 Pig Fest, was in the kitchen. It was very cool to see the chef in the kitchen on a Monday night, not what I usually consider a busy evening. Though this Monday at Toro was certainly quite busy, and remained so for much of the night. Chef Bissonnette was very personable and certainly seems to enjoy being in the kitchen.
It is also nice that Toro has an open kitchen so that you can see all of your food being prepared. No one is trying to hide anything and it exudes confidence, that the kitchen help is secure in what they do. The alluring smells of the food also waft easier into the dining room, honing your desire for the food.
The food menu, which changes frequently, has a diverse and interesting selection of pinchos, tapas, and paella. We ordered a bunch of pinchos and tapas, as well as a Paella Valenciana. When you get several foodies together, you just know they are going to eat a lot of food. So many of the dishes on the menu sounded enticing that it also was difficult to show restraint in ordering.
A seeming endless stream of plates eventually started to be placed on our table. A simple but tasty Queso Mahon, tiny cubes of marinated cow’s milk cheese from Menorca. I am a fan of Mahon and the marinade, which seemed like olive oil and herbs, went well with it. A wooden plank with homemade Charcuterie, one of Chef Bissonette's specialties. Morcilla (blood sausage), Vietnamese bologna, head cheese and a ham made from pig ears! All of it well flavored and spiced. A braised beef dish topped by an over easy egg was in a delicious sauce and the beef was very tender, except for a crunchy section. The textures and flavors blended well, especially with the broken yolk dripping over the beef.
A Tuna Tartare pinchos, in a small dish, with a citrus-flavored foam atop the raw, silky tuna. A plateful of Razor Clams on the half-shell, each long clam being both tender and tasty. The Erizos en Suquet was a Catalan stew of sea urchin, lobster and crab meat though I think there was some calamari in it too. This was excellent, a flavorful melange of sauce, seafood and spices. There were some good sized pieces of lobster in the stew.
Mmmmm....memories of the corn! If go to to Toro, there is one dish that you MUST order. You have to get the Maíz Asado con Alioli y Queso Cotija, the specialty of the house. This is four pieces of grilled corn with alioli, lime, espelette pepper and lots of aged cheese. What a hedonistic delight! All of the flavors and textures worked perfectly together and you might never settle for plain old butter on your corn on the cob again. I probably could have eaten all four pieces of corn myself. There is a reason why this dish is so popular, and it is because it is absolutely delicious.
After our pinchos and tapas, our Paella Valenciana arrived in a large, black paella pan. It contained plenty of shellfish and chicken, and reminded me of the paella I have eaten in Spain. There was certainly plenty of paella for all of us and I thought it was quite good. The rice was cooked well and the saffron flavor pleased my palate. I had a couple plates of the paella, savoring each mouthful.
We ended our dinner with Churros, fried-dough sticks with melted chocolate for dipping. I have had them here before and knew that I had to order them again. They are hot, with a crunchy exterior and a soft inside, and the chocolate is rich and creamy. An excellent ending to such a exceptional meal.
The dishes are reasonably priced and this may be a significant reason why the restaurant was so busy on a Monday night. The small plates concept, with reasonable prices, should be a good draw during this economy. And since the food is so delicious, then it is obvious why Toro is attracting plenty of patrons, even on a Monday evening.
Chef Bissonnette is doing a great job at Toro and you should check out his cuisine. I will certainly be back again very soon, especially as I must have more of that corn.
1704 Washington Street
Phone: (617) 536-4300