Monday, October 8, 2007

Ken Oringer, Toro Southend

Toro is another one of Ken Oringer's restaurants in Boston, MA. Toro as the name implies is Spanish for bull and as such the restaurant is a Spanish themed tapas restaurant. Don't let the Ken Oringer name on the bill-of-fare fool you though as this is not a shirt and tie affair, it is a casual experience with amazing food. Although Oringer is the chef-owner of this location, the chef on location is Roberto Hernandez who is doing a great job.

The restaurant does not take reservations for groups under six people and as I have noted before I take no issue with this at all. Reservation systems in popular locations just knocks many peoples ability out of spur-of-the-moment dining which is my favorite way to go out. This night was no exception as it was 10pm and I hadn't eaten all day and I wanted a late night dinner on Saturday. This was another positive with the late hours for the kitchen. The main menu is served until 11:45 and then a late-night menu kicks into play until 12:00. This city has such a shortage of late-night bites and it is nice to see places do this.

The facad can't be missed from the front, very in-your-face modern with a number of outdoor seats. In side, at 10:30 the place was packed. There were no seats when I first got there, but one opened up within 5-10 minutes. The crowd moves often and this is probably dues to the nature of the menu which I'll get to in a moment. The dining room is a long room with extremely high ceilings with a dozen or so tables to the left, a communal table in the middle of the room (I don't get the recent craze of communal tables) and a large bar all the way to the right which ended at the open-kitchen. A rather large chalk board behind the bar told the patrons of the wines by-the-glass and a list of exciting cocktails accompanied the wine list. The bar had an awkward sushi case on it however which housed cheeses, it really seemed out of place.

The wine list was very appropriately all Spanish and full of things I had never tried before. Prices were surprisingly not bad with many bottles ranging in the $30 range and some even $25. I was looking for white wine tonight and I decided to taste a few of the by-the-glass options as there were six different "different" options. The wines were served in a large rocks glass, with an attempt to keep with the casual feel of the location, I'll be honest with you, I'd rather a wine glass. There is a reason man invented the thing, and although the wines were all $8-$10, I still want to appreciate a good wine and it is harder to do in a wide-mouthed rocks glass.

Now the restaurant does offer entrees and I'm sure they are excellent but I was there to try the tapas menu. That portion of the menu consisted of twenty-nine options ranging in price from $5-$17 along with seven slightly smaller plates called pinchos at $4-$6. Of the twenty-nine options, I tried nine different plates. Some went off better than others, but most were amazing. The smoked beef tongue with lentils; acorn fed Iberian ham; sauteed frog legs with marinated celery, black truffle and herbs; grilled corn with aioli, lime espelette pepper and aged cheese; skirt steak a la plancha, and the salt cod fritters were all beyond amazing. These items were all must haves, unless you don't like eating corn-on-the-cob which honestly I don't but it was tasty.

Items I had that I could do without, or maybe were just off that day were the smoked duck drumettes which were a bit dry; the octopus ceviche with nora peppers, yellow pepper juice, cilantro and mint, was just overly cloyingly sweet; and the crispy sweetbreads with mustard and loavge, which were not very crispy and were unseasoned and bland.

Other options on the menu include paella for 2-4 people, salt crusted sea bass and a beef rib-eye, along with a selection of cheeses. For dessert the menu offers Crema Catalana which is a Catalan version of creme brulee, and a few other items. The sherry list is extensive with most in the $5 rangel but a couple at $9 and $14 They ranged all the way from really dry up to super sweet.

Service was excellent, I was promptly greeted at the door by the hostess who assured me she would get me a table promptly if I wanted a table, but as I was having tapas I felt I should be sitting at the bar and as soon as a seat opened a waitress came up to me and told me to scoot over there so it would not be taken. I ended up sitting next to the open kitchen which for some they might really enjoy. The multiple bartenders were great, very knowledgeable of the menu and the wines. A couple servers talked to me as they passed about the menu as well which made the evening fun. The food came out quickly and maybe at a few times a bit too quickly as I had ordered four items to start with and they came out pretty much at the same time, but if you let them know you want to pass yourself, they will do that for you which they did for the rest.

I'll opt to not tell you my tab because it is never indicative of the average person going out, I would say though for two people sharing four tapas and a glass of wine each you could get out of here for around $65 unless you went for the few high priced tapas. I highly suggest trying this place out, even after two years of being open the place is packed so I suggest arriving early in the night if you can as I was told the crowds are a bit less.

1704 Washington St (near the Mass ave. cross street)
Boston, MA 02118
Phone: (617) 536-4300 (reservations for 6+ people only)

Mon-Sat 4:30pm-1am
Sun 10:30am-1:30pm, 4:30pm-1am

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