The hottest implant from Boston quickly gained serious praise, celebrity sightings and attractive crowds. Snagging a reservation at Toro requires advanced planning and flexibility with time, since this West Village tapas bar has been generating buzz since opening day.
Fans of the Boston location complain about the significantly higher prices in New York, which owners blame on rent. The tapas are equally delicious and innovative, but since small plates require ordering numerous dishes, expect the bill to add up rather quickly.
The pricey space, located right off the West Side Highway, embraces the industrial look, while still adding bits of Spanish flare. Gigantic pieces of Jamon hang next to metal poles and pipes. The wooden tables and chairs all have a bit of steel flare, transforming a tough space into something surprisingly trendy.
In true New York fashion, Toro was packed at 9:45pm on a Friday night. Even with a reservation, our seats were towards the font of the restaurant, in the midst of the hustle of the bar scene. The sound level was not terrible for the location, but the bus boys constantly pushed into the back of my chair as they maneuvered through the small aisle.
We glanced over the gigantic menu, overwhelmed with what to order. The cocktail list is a bit more manageable, as I selected my typical glass of sangria (always great with tapas) and Dan ordered a Spanish beer.
Toro’s version of Sangria turns the traditional wine and fruity drink into a fancier cocktail. It’s served over gigantic ice cubes and finished with a light sprinkle of cinnamon-sugar. The fruit I always awkwardly try to get from the bottom were nowhere to be found. For sangria lovers, this is a milder version steering away from the fruity sweet versions I detest. It’s a rather good interpretation of my favorite wine cocktail.
Service tended to be a bit slow at first, but once the waitress noticed our table, she was nothing short of attentive and friendly. She helped to guide us through the seemingly never ended menu, which has five different sections with no less than ten dishes in each. Everything seemed as whimsical as the last dish, ranging in prices and high-end ingredients from one dish to the next. Creating a cohesive and satisfying meal seemed slightly difficult without her help.
To start, we knew we needed to order the grilled corn with aioli and cheese. This dish has been the subject of countless Instagrams, as well as one of my favorite corn preparations (see Café Habana). We knew even before we arrived that this dish would grace our table.
Unless you have the eating super skills like my boyfriend, be prepared for a delicious and wonderful mess. Slightly spicy, light orange aioli smothers the pieces of grilled corn. When you pick up the corn and take one big bite of the corn, aioli drips down your mouth, but you hardly care or really notice, going in for yet another bite. It’s sweet, spicy creamy and slightly salty from the aged cheese. The acidity from the lime allows for smothered corn to have a bit of balance. This corn is out of this world, but be prepared to use a ton of napkins and wish they served this with wet naps. Note to those on first dates: if you care about getting messy in front of your date, don’t order this. If you don’t mind making a mess, this one’s a keeper.
In addition to ordering the corn, we knew that a croquette of some sort was needed to be ordered. I mean common, what’s a tapas meal without these? There are two versions, cod and the traditional ham and cheese version. Taking the advice of our waitress, we went for the fish version.
Slightly larger than your average croquette, these salt cod fritters are perfectly fried to a gorgeous golden brown. The outside is super crispy and extremely creamy on the inside, mixing the potato and salt cod. The fish flavor is extremely subtle, mellowed out by the potato and creamy, slightly acidic lemon aioli. These are definitely a must order.
For the next part of our meal, we went raw; tuna Crudo and the special of the day, Bay Scallop Sashimi.
The beautifully presented yellowfin tuna is marinated in white soy giving a subtle Asian flavor, along with the slightly acidic cucumbers. The avocado crème balances the dish, inserting a bit of freshness and sweetness to the delicate fish. It’s a really nicely prepared crudo, but not something so unusual that you would expect from this type of a restaurant.
Bay scallops are currently in season and one of my favorite seasonal fish. I always love the whimsical approaches different restaurants take when using the same ingredient.
Here, Toro hit it out of the park, simply dressing the scallops with salt and pepper and allowing for the rest of the components to elevate the protein. Seasonal fruit, pomegranate seeds and citrus surround the delicate scallops, inserting a sweet and tanginess to the dish. High quality olive oil acts as the binding factor between all of elements. Delicious and simple bay scallops are a must order, if available.
Finally, we ended the dining experience with the duck drummettes, which proved to be even messier then the Grilled Corn.
The duck drumettes looks like a bigger chicken wing and smaller turkey leg, a preparation I’ve actually never seen with duck before. The smoked duck cooks in a similar fashion of a Chinese Peking Duck, giving a crispy exterior created from rendering out all of the fat. The duck is then smothered in a sweet and savory quince glaze then topped with sesame seeds for an added crunch. The duck was easily my favorite dish of the night, transforming my favorite protein into something completely new.
I understand the extreme hype around Toro. The place is super cool and the food definitely delicious and whimsical. However, the price point is extremely high compared to other restaurants serving similar dishes. In addition, unless you’re a somebody and able to snag one of the seats in the back dining room, having intimate conversations isn’t likely to happen and your seat will definitely be knocked into once or twice.
It’s an experience, a place that everyone’s obsessing over and will definitely drain your wallet. If you’re prepared to spend the big bucks, you’re experience here will be phenomenal. But if you’re in the mood for some delicious tapas in a cool environment many other places will equally suffice.
Toro – 86 10th Avenue – New York, NY
Location: West Village, NY
Type: Spanish, Tapas
Perfect For: Date Night, Special Occasions, Small Plates, Girls’ Night Out, Celebrity Sightings
Reservations: Recommended via OpenTable
Favorite Dishes: Smoked Duck Drumettes, Grilled Corn, Salt Cod Croquettes, Bay Scallops