Mon-Wed, 5:30pm-11pm; Thu-Sat, 5:30pm-midnight; Sun, closed
A, C, E at 14th St.; L at Eighth Ave.
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There are plenty of chefs who establish their reputations as ambitious young cooks in New York (e.g., Mario Batali, David Chang, Michael White, Tom Colicchio, April Bloomfield) and then go out into the greater world to build their international empires and prosper. But the days when the city was the exclusive kingmaker of aspiring cooks from around the globe are long gone. The late, lamented Charlie Trotter proved that you don’t ever have to set foot east of the Hudson to secure a lasting, even international, reputation in today’s Balkanized, locally grown fine-dining landscape. If you’re brave enough to try your luck in the big city, chances are you already have a successful business model in your pocket (Thomas Keller, Pok Pok’s Andy Ricker) and a James Beard Award or two on your wall. Like Vegas at its peak, New York is now a place where out-of-town chefs can monetize their gains, and if it doesn’t work out, they can always fold their tents and go back home.
Ken Oringer and Jamie Bissonnette’s stolid new battleship of a restaurant, Toro, which opened a couple of months ago on the western fringe of the meatpacking district, seems to have been conceived with this practical, mercenary principle in mind. The celebrated chefs came to town from Boston, where they collaborated on the original Toro tapas bar, in the South End, among other award-winning projects. Unlike the Boston branch of Toro, however, this industrial-size operation seats 120 people, not counting the hordes who mill around the cavernous bar area. Rows of cured Spanish hams are strung up here and there high in the gloomy rafters, and a large bull’s head affixed to a brick wall looks like it has been transported directly from one of the grim castle halls of Game of Thrones. . . .
As the decibel levels rose, and one watery cocktail succeeded another, I wondered what kind of impact this polished cooking would have in a smaller, more intimate space. But the talented chef-owners of Toro are less interested in intimate dining, at this stage of their successful careers, than in profits, and compared with many of the behemoth money machines in the neighborhood, this one has its charms. Once they stop pushing the house cocktails, the wait staff are both competent and courteous.
If you enjoy an old-world tipple after dinner, there are a decent number of Madeiras, ports, and ciders to choose from, along with a lean, decently priced list of mostly Spanish and French wines. There are three forgettable, premade desserts, but if you choose one, make it that old crowd-pleaser the fried churro, with its durable crunch.Ideal Meal
Bocadillo de erizos, pan con tomate, fried chicken livers or crispy veal sweetbreads, paella Valenciana and/or rib eye, octopus, cuttlefish, razor clams a la plancha.