Tuesday, June 10, 2014


I think I have a thing for bulls.  Lucky for me, there are Toro varietals all over the place.  Toro Bravo (unaffiliated) is one I've claimed to be my favorite restaurant ever.  I had my eye on El Toro Blanco (Mexican) until I was dissuaded by a very trusted source.  Now chefs Ken Oringer and 2014 James Beard Best Chef NE winner Jamie Bissonette have brought their Boston native Toro to New York City, on the same stretch of 10th avenue with such heavy-hitting stalwarts Del Posto and Colicchio & Sons.  Well, the address says 10th avenue; you really have to walk almost to eleventh to find the door.  But the restaurant itself is just really big.  Far west of the trendy Meat Packing District, Toro retains some of the nuances of both neighbors, but at the same time a welcome rusticity that releases it a bit from the surrounding pomp.  That's not to say it's not an occasion destination- the price points here certainly derive from the enormous real estate upon which it sits, super-quality sourcing of ingredients and celebrity-chef notoriety ... all adding up to one pricey repast.  But it is money well spent, and no hints disappointment even nudged the experience- except for that maybe I would've wanted a little bit more of it.

Toro is palatially large: the open kitchen far in the back showcases the chefs doing their thing, but from our table near the front, they looked like small marionettes prancing about an illuminated stage.  Apparently, the majority of work is being done in a kitchen which measures like a half a subterranean block away, the above-ground open kitchen just providing some of the a la plancha dishes and a lively show.  Despite its spaciousness, the place fills up quickly.  No sooner than we were seated did the bar crowd begin to multiply, the noise level right along with it.  So if you tend to be less than thrilled with a little seat-bumping and raucous, celebration-caliber laughter, maybe go really early and avoid the prime-time crowds, or at least see if you can reserve a table as far from the bar as possible.

But don't let the cacophony distract too much from the marvels of the menu.  We bypassed ordering the shishito peppers in favor of cheffier dishes, but our neighbor's order of them looked so enticing I'm still rueing that omission.  Soothing over that loss, however, the best dish of the night arrived as our first: a plate of coliflor y kohlrabi, roasted with a zesty array of golden raisins, pignoli and anchovies with a light dusting of pimenton de la vera for subtle heat.  It recalled a similar dish I had at nearby Salinas, and I would love to see the two of them go head to head in a battle for superiority: I would be one happy judge,
regardless of the outcome.  Setas come crowned with a golden yolk intended to be stirred in to the saute to augment its richness, but frankly I think I would've preferred it without.  The melange became a little gummy in its eggy coating, and it seemed to tamp the well-garlicked and -herbed flavor of the mushrooms.
And for the $16 price tag, I would've well done without the egg and hopefully shaved a few dollars off.  On that note, you could also add cocks comb for and additional three dollars, but nearly $20 for a small plate of mushrooms, regardless of the accoutrements, seems... excessive.

From the Tapas Calientes section of the menu we took Suquet de Mariscos, a wonderfully soothing potage of lobster, urchin and parsnip.  I detected no pieces of the latter, so I'm guessing the ivory opacity of the broth came from the pureed tuber rather than cream, although from its indulgent flavor it's hard to know.  Crunchy shards of frizzled onions were the perfect foil for the mildly oceanic stew.  While the monkfish cheeks in Moroccan spices were so tempting, we had to make do with that as far as the seafood quotient, the bill rapidly mounting.  Flavors here are so robust that the diminutive portions don't always seem flagrant, and none so much as the tiny cup of sliced, marinated skirt steak nuzzled in a red onion marmalade and cabrales butter.  The funk of the blue cheese made the dish, balancing the sweetness of the jam and elevating the tender, rare beef.  Served mounded up in its little bowl, its scantness was deceptive, but splayed out on a regular plate it would not have attained Ozersky's seal of approval.  But they are tapas sizedeven if some hover near entree prices.  None of them price in the single digits except an escalivada of eggplant (which is really more of a dip) and the patatas bravas, which were by far the most voluminous dish, a daunting pile of chunked spud crisped golden and slathered with globs of mayo bedded in dusty tasting tomato sauce.  The potatoes tasted flour, unspectacular, and
underseasoned without a vigorous swirl in their sauces, and really only achieved deliciousness with a renegade swipe in the juices from the filete (that cabrales butter would make a saddle delicious).    At any rate most plates tip toward the twenty dollar end of the scale, and with the three to four dishes recommended per person, the bill can get profound.  And the thing is, I still had more than enough room for dessert.

I can't say I wasn't happy, however, to have retained sufficient capacity to be able sample a sweet, as it turns out.  We chose a riff on the summeriest of desserts: a strawberry shortcake that subbed in golden cubes of moist, crisp-edged olive oil cake surrounded by glistening, jammy berries and pillows of frothy whipped cream subtly flavored with port.  There were a couple of other dessert options, too, rattled off by our waitress (no dessert menu): housemade churros and some chocolate mousse concoction if I remember correctly, and if I heard correctly over the elevated din.  But by this time, we had acclimated to the rowdy volume, and sort of entered celebration-mode ourselves.  The noise isn't really a deterrent in the end, as long as you're not too sensitive.  This kind of bull, well... it deserves a little "Ole!"

Entrance on 15th Street and 11th Avenue

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