One of the many restaurants in the Ken Oringer empire, Toro is a tapas joint headed up by chef Jaime Bissonnette, located on Washington Street in Boston’s South End. On a Friday afternoon, the Hungry Native Team (EA & KD) stopped in for lunch.
Toro opens for lunch at noon, so when we arrived at 12:05 and saw that a large party was already seated, it was considered a good sign. Beers were promptly ordered while we checked out the menu. EA had a Crooked Tree IPA by Dark Horse Brewing Company, which tasted great but was a little strange looking. Ok, more than a little strange looking. It was the cloudiest IPA we’ve ever seen, and it had huge chunks of something floating in it. We’re not talking about some yeast sediment at the bottom, or some unfiltered haze. This beer had large, pale, flat flakes of something lurking in it. EA proceeded to order two more just to make sure that he hadn’t gotten a bad one, but they were all the same, chunky yet tasty with labels that weren’t quite centered on the bottle.
We started lunch with the “Ventresca”, pieces of oil-cured Tuna belly on toasted bread (what’s Spanish for Crostini?) with a tomato tapanade, topped with a celery leaf. It was good in a “Best canned Tuna you’ve ever had” kinda way. EA wished it had a little more of the tapanade.
Next up was the “Corazon a la Plancha” or Beef Heart. It was served sliced thin on toasted bread with romesco sauce, or as EA called it, “Yummy hummus-type-stuff.” The taste was much like a really high quality, slightly smoky roast beef, with a sprinkling of sea-salt and chives on top. This dish had none of the “mineral” taste you usually associate with heart. This was an excellent bite of food, and would be an easy way to get people to try heart.
You kind of have to follow Beef Heart with Beef Tongue, so we did. With the “Smoked River Rock beef tongue with lentils and salsa verde”. The tongue slices were tender and smoky, tasting almost of a smoked mortadella. The combination of Salsa Verde (think Europe, not Mexico), sea salt, smoked tongue and lentils worked really well together, but both of us wished there was a bit more Salsa Verde or a bit less beef tongue because once you ate the top two slices of tongue, most of the sauce was gone. KD thought it was a bit too smoky while EA thought she was crazy.
“Pimientos del Padron” Hot green peppers with sea salt. Kick-ass bar snack. Fried, but not battered, slightly charred and not really that hot (unless you get a un-charred one) they had a bright, vibrant “Green” flavor to go with their saltiness.
After beef heart and tongue, it’s stomach time. We ordered the “Estufado de Tripa” -tripe and pork stew with coconut, galangal and green curry. This stew was seriously good, with a sweet curry flavor reminiscent of Thai cooking. The Tripe itself was buttery tender (yes, tender tripe), fatty and so rich. EA enjoyed the sensation of pushing his tongue through the chunks of tripe, which felt like a web of fatty awesomeness. The small chunks of pork balanced out the flavor and texture, but the tripe was definitely the star of the dish. You’re not allowed to say you don’t like tripe until you try this dish, it’s that good.
Garlic Shrimp is our go-to item wherever Tapas are served, so we tried Toro’s “Gambas al Ajillo” next. The plating was beautiful, with griddled shrimp sitting in an orange sauce that looked loaded with saffron, and a generous amount of chili threads on top. Sadly, this was our least favorite dish. We are both head-suckers (KD more than EA) so we’re ok with “Real” shrimp flavor but the broth was a bit flat, with a deep and murky seafood flavor. It could’ve had a bit more garlic punch, or something to cut through the heavy broth. KD thought the sauce had a heavy mayonnaise taste.
KD ordered the Foie Gras (not on the lunch menu but she ordered it anyway, she’s like that.) This was not the same dish listed on the online dinner menu, it had some form of potato underneath the foie, topped with Parmesan cheese, a mushroom and sea salt (again with the salt) on a Crostini. As strange as it sounds, we found the potato to be a bit overpowering. How potato overpowers Foie is a bit puzzling, but there you have it. The Foie itself was very good, pairing well with the rich mushroom and the crusty bread. We didn’t really think it needed the potato thingy at all.
All in all, this was a fabulous lunch in a cozy, unpretentious setting. The interior features a long bar, lots of unfinished wood and minimalist décor. The bartender/waiter was helpful, friendly and knowledgeable. EA was pleasantly surprised by the music selection, which ranged from Faith no More to old Ska even he couldn’t hate. The Natives can’t wait to return to Toro and try the other half of the menu!
Editor’s note ~ At Hungry Native, our restaurant reviews are by no means comprehensive, we may have visited a particular place many times, or perhaps only once. For the most part, we focus on specific dishes. We try to judge restaurants for what they are, rather than compare them directly. No review should be taken as a blanket endorsement of an establishment but rather a guide to what we found especially good or interesting.
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