Notched into a cavernous space in the building at 85 10th Avenue, just-opened Toro shares an address with destination dining spots Del Posto and Colicchio & Sons, and it’s considerably more difficult to find than its neighbors–to enter, you’ll need to head west on 15th Street to a red staircase that’s nearly a block away.
But early in the evening last night, Toro was buzzing, its 125 seats well on the way to being filled, while its neighbors sat mostly empty.
Perhaps the reputation of its owners precedes this restaurant: Toro is the first New York City venture from prolific Boston restaurateurs Ken Oringer and Jamie Bissonnette, who made their names on the original Toro and a spot called Coppa. Oringer says the partners had been looking around Boston to open a second Toro, but when they saw this Chelsea space in NYC, they decided to make a go at the Big Apple instead. “We took a walk-through and said, ‘Wow, this is a cool space,'” he recalls. “Sometimes when you walk into the space, gut instinct takes over, and you can’t fight the urge. We love challenges. It’s not like we had to convince each other.”
They built their new home out with a warehouse-chic aesthetic, keeping the brick and beams exposed. An exhibition chefs counter glows like a stage near the back of the room, and vines cover one of the walls and rafters. Succulents sit on each table, and a front bar lends energy into the rest of the room. The volume is soaring, by the way, even when the place is half-full.
This spot is about twice as big as its Boston sibling–“it feels about 1,000 times as big,” says Origner–which means that the partners will preserve the intention of the original Toro while expanding their offerings because they’ve got the space to do so. The original Toro, the guys explain, came for a love of Spanish dining culture–in that country, Oringer explains, “you spend three hours at a table and you don’t want to leave when you’re done”–and a desire to open a spot, says Bissonnette, where just about anyone can come in and afford to eat something. “When I was a poor line cook, I loved to go out to eat,” he says. “I want restaurants where my friends who are line cooks can come eat. Working in fine dining, they couldn’t do that. A lot of what we’re doing here could be a course in fine dining. We want people to come in from all over the place. We want a crowd of travelers, tourists, Chelsea Market shoppers, New Yorkers, and industry.”
And so as with in Boston, the guys have installed a massive menu of tapas, paellas, and pinchos (or little bites), attempting to cover bases for every kind of eater. “We have some unique items like sweetbreads, coxcombs, baby squids, and sea cucumber,” Oringer explains. “But my parents can come in and get a whole-roasted fish or skirt steak with cabrales butter.” Highlights, say the guys, include the beef cheek and bone marrow as well as the escalivada, a blend of eggplant, onions, peppers, and tomatoes that amounts to something far greater than a mere sum of its parts. We also liked the empanadas, the fried dough pockets encasing tender chicken and soft potatoes, and the beef heart served shaved on a bit of toast with romesco.
You might flinch, by the way, at the price of the espadenas (sea cucumber), but if you’ve got $27 you can part with, it’s worth giving it a try–this is a different species from the gelatinous version you’ll find on the list at Japanese restaurants, and it comes out tender, delicate, and kissed with brine and citrus.
The menu pairs to a Spanish-heavy wine list, and all by-the-glass offerings hail from Catalan. Cocktails are gin and tonic-centric; Bissonnette explains that the tonic is made in house, and different iterations of the drink are made with tinctures and syrups.
So do the guys have plans to roll out more Toros across the country? “I don’t think we’re that calculated,” says Bissonnette. For now, though, they’re enjoying the thrill of cooking in New York.
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