On Sunday, Jota and I met up for dinner at TORO, Ken Oringer’s Spanish tapas restaurant in the South End. Chef/Owner Oringer has been reaping in the accolades for some time — front and center in his trophy case is his James Beard award, no doubt. I don’t know if he is deserving of all the press, but the food here is definitely worth a shot. It strikes a pleasing balance between being trendy, innovative, and authentic. I say that because the usual suspects are present in full force (bone marrow, short ribs, pork belly, head terrine), but they don’t dominate the menu; there are plenty of other appetizing dishes, more authentic or innovative than trendy, to choose from. The restaurant is sophisticated but not stuffy; the high ceilings and open space chased away my claustrophobic tendencies, though the dining area was louder than I find ideal. I was in a forgiving mood, though, b/c the loudness wasn’t pointless din but an indication to me of good, festive cheer spurred on by good, festive food and drink. My only non food-related beef was the grumpy water and bread runner (“I ain’t a waitress”).
With a beer for him and a Fresita (strawberry-rhubarb, kalamansi lime, Hendrick’s gin) for me (I’m slowly warming to the idea of cocktails), the ordering began.
Bread with requested olive oil:
The highlight of the night:
Jota and I agreed that this salad was the best dish of the night: roasted beets, jonah crab, grapefruit, avocado, candied citrus peel. It was a special, but if you see it, you must order it! This dish truly showcases what a salad can be: textural contrasts, harmonious flavors, a stunning visual. The avocado component was more like an avocado cream than straight-up avocado. Jota said he would have preferred actual slices or chunks of avocado, but I enjoyed the light silkiness of it as it was, more appreciative of the texture than the flavor perhaps.
Another dish we both liked was the Callos de Collinsville (honeycomb tripe with tomato and peppers). Unfortunately, I forgot to photograph it, but it was a very succulent, flavorful dish (arguably a touch salty), with the sweet nothings of fresh green peas scattered throughout. Muaha, I got to eat all the green peas since J is allergic to legumes
Pig’s head terrine with candied carrots (another special). Reminded me a little of canned tuna, in smell and texture, though not necessarily in an unpleasant way. I would pass unless you are really into this kind of thing.
Mejillones con Sidra (mussels with chorizo and basque cider). Juicy tender mussels + salty chorizo slices + bread and broth = satisfaction. I got a sand crystal, but the mussels were meatier and a cut above the mussels at La Voile I had a couple weekends ago.
Corazon a la Planche: grass-fed beef heart with romesco. If you like intense cured meats, you should like this corazon. I was expecting chunks of heart for some reason, so the thinly sliced meat came as a surprise. The romesco is mild.
Pato con Membrillo: smoked duck drummettes with quince glaze. Smoked duck is oh so delicious, especially since the meatiness stands up well to the sweetness of the citrus glaze.
Because we ordered it last minute, before the check came, I did not photograph TORO’s piece de resistance, the Maíz Asado con Alioli y Queso Cotija: grilled corn with alioli, lime, espelette pepper, and aged cheese. I didn’t know it until Jota told me, but people go crazy over this dish. I thought the alioli was too heavy, the corn not sweet enough, and a dish I could approximate at home.
The miss of the night:
Mollejas: crispy veal sweetbreads with blood orange and cinnamon. Sounds delicious on paper and they make for adorable one bites, but the sauce was too reminiscent of the sickly sweet glaze that plagues Chinese-American food.
TORO is a restaurant best reserved for special occasions or celebrations, with a group so you can experiment across the menu (and the array of wines that adorn the walls). I think it’s too loud for an intimate date or tete a tete, but there were some couples eating in the corners and outside. I would return to try some of the cocktails as well, since that seems to be a major point of pride. Though this is my first tapas restaurant experience, it has me sold on Spanish flavors (bold and varied) and the small plates experience.
1704 Washington Street
Boston, MA 02118