The last Boston import with as much hype as Toro was Babe Ruth. Too bad this transplant doesn’t hit as many home runs.
Chef-owners Ken Oringer and Jamie Bissonnette have repackaged their beloved Massachusetts alcove as a Meatpacking District colossus, with soaring raftered ceilings and giant windows overlooking the whir of Eleventh Avenue. A mounted bull’s head and dangling jamones are token hat tips to old-world ruggedness, but with its pounding music and bombshell clientele, the industrial room is more representative of the nightclubs nearby.
The mercurial menu sprawls as much as the space, offering 60 traditional and border-crossing tapas. Plancha-seared octopus ($16) is miraculously tender, but cuttlefish ($14) cooked on the same sizzling stove is frustratingly chewy. Odd bits can comfort, like earthy tripe melting into a bone-warming stew of beans and blood sausage ($14), or uni oozing out of a crisp pressed sandwich ($13), like American cheese in the best way. But they can also confound, as with a wildly oversalted pork terrine ($15).
The eat-as-it-comes ethos of tapas can result in a lonely table topped with a single, precious plate, throwing the lofty ratio of price to quantity into especially stark relief. Mackerel tartare ($15) is tasty enough with its Southeast Asian accoutrements, but your patience for sharing wears thin with a dish literally served in a sardine tin. Even the largest platters can vex, like Paella Valenciana with properly crusty socarrat, but underseasoned chicken and overcooked shellfish; the $76 it costs would get you a Megabus to Toro Boston and an order of the same dish (where it’s half the price), with cash to spare.
Diners long on endurance and funds can secure a critical mass of hit dishes, but Toro’s high-volume operation leaves little opportunity for the kind of doting service that can mitigate the sting of high-priced misses. Those big box sensibilities haven’t stopped Oringer and Bissonnette from packing the house every night; after all, this Toro isn’t their first rodeo.
THE BOTTOM LINE:
Meal highlights: Pulpo (octopus), tripe-and-blood-sausage stew, cauliflower and kohlrabi, chicken-liver-stuffed fried sage leaves, pressed sea-urchin sandwich
Behind the bar: Too-sweet cocktails made by inattentive bartenders are overpriced at $15; better to stick with the reasonable wine list, heavily emphasizing lesser-known Spanish varietals.
Vibe: As dinner progresses, the room swells with attractive night owls, as if gradually converting from a restaurant to a Barcelona-themed nightclub.
Cocktail chatter: That dour horned head staring down as you eat is no joke: It’s a trophy from a bullfight in Mexico.
Soundcheck: Only a roar this deafening could make the traffic on the West Side Highway seem placid.
By: Daniel S. Meyer