Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Joy of Restaurant Week at Toro

At the end of the night, we were hard pressed to choose among our favorites: was it the incredible crispness of the pork skin? Was it the way the tarragon perfectly complimented the sweet maple-infused carrots? How many jamon Serrano (dates wrapped in Spanish ham and stuffed with Cabrales blue cheese and marcona almonds!) is it acceptable to eat at one sitting? And how is it possible that anchovies could have such a bad reputation when the ones we ate were sweet, light and wonderful?

The list went on as we reviewed our fabulous meal at Toro, a Spanish-style Tapas restaurant in the South End. The food was excellent. The presentation was visually stunning. Best of all (and this is the reason to stop reading this blog and run to the phone), it is Restaurant Week and Toro is participating for the first time! This means two major bonuses: first, you can eat most of their menu for $33.00 a person which is slightly less expensive than normal. Second, and most importantly for parents who pay the babysitter by the hour: Toro is taking reservations (a typical Saturday night wait can be 2 hours!). Having wanted to go since it opened in 2005, I was not only happy to finally be able to go (without constantly looking at my watch), but to have a meal that was as good as expected.

During Restaurant Week (which is actually 2 weeks: 3/15 to 3/20 and 3/22 to 3/27) the great prices usually are accompanied by a limited range of options. (Click here for the full list of restaurants that are participating.) However, at Toro, you are able to order most of the tapas that they offer. As one of the best aspects of a tapas restaurant is the ability to try multiple dishes, I do recommend going with at least 2 other people. Finally, for people who want to eat at a restaurant owned by Ken Oringer, this is a far better option than La Verdad which I reviewed/critiqued here. Whereas La Verdad seems to focus on quick turnover (it is in the Fenway, after all), the cooking at Toro is focused on attention to detail in ingredients, preparation and presentation. The chef, Jamie Bissonnette (wearing glasses in the photo) just came on board in October and it is clearly a great direction for the restaurant.

Toro is different from other tapas place I had been to before in that it is more innovative and more complex. For example, the simple sounding Tortilla Espanola has incredibly thin sliced potatoes, which makes a far delicate version than I have had previously. The alioli (a garlicy mayonnaise of sorts) adds sharpness to the dish. What is listed as Gambas al Ajillo (or “Griddled garlic shrimp”) is actually a gorgeous ochre colored pile of shrimp sitting on a reduction of lobster stock infused with saffron. Those addictive dates were an example of how 4 good ingredients can create a fabulous whole. (We ate them so quickly that I forgot to take a picture!)

In addition to the dates, for our first bites (and the pinchos are literally small bites) we enjoyed the Bisbe de Porc or pork rillette (pate of sorts) on bread. This was followed by the Ventresca: Spanish tuna belly, tomato tapenade and celery leaves. In terms of our tapas, while the Ensalada del Otoo (Roasted beets, heirloom apples, arugula, cabrales and pistachio crumble) was beautiful; it didn’t stand out as unique compared to other dishes. The Vientre de Cerdo (Crispy pork belly with Chantennay carrots and smoked maple crumble) on the other hand was one of the stars of the evening (both are pictured at the top of this post). It was a phenomenal contrast of tastes: salty, sweet and herbal and textures.

Our tasting went on. We were all surprised by how much we liked the fried sweetbreads with a blood orange reduction. The tartness of the sauce contrasted with the richness of the perfectly fried, rich sweetbreads. The bocadillos were delicious little sandwiches with pickled red onions and a subtle heat from pepper. Although the presentation of the baby clams was great, we didn’t shovel them down like the other dishes. (I actually enjoyed the sausage in the dish as much if not more than the clams.)

In my piece on La Verdad I extolled the grilled corn. Well, the Toro version puts it to shame. Listed as Maiz Asado con Alioli y Queso Cotija, I actually preferred La Verdad’s preparation (they skip the alioli). However, as the key step is the grilling of the corn, Toro’s corn was much more caramelized, resulting in a far better dish.

And now, one of the best parts of the night: the Churros con chocolate. Yes, this is essentially the same dish that was almost inedible, despite 2 different visits, at La Verdad. But here, oh, here at Toro, the churros are as good as they get. Etherally light, airy and perfectly fried with a phenomenal dark chocolate sauce that is infused with the warmth of chili pepper.

So, call. Call NOW! Toro: Phone 617-536-4300. Located at 1704 Washington St, Boston, MA 02118.

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