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Toro Brings $45 Truffles, Gronkowski to NYC: Ryan Sutton

Toro
Paella Valenciana comes with shrimp, mussels, clams chorizo and calasparra rice at Toro. The dish costs $38, or $76 for a larger portion. Photographer: Philip Lewis/Bloomberg

Nov. 13 (Bloomberg) -- Toro, the Manhattan outpost of a popular Boston tapas spot, might consider adding this disclaimer to its website: “Prices may be higher in New York.”

Blame it on the rent, which Toro says is 10 times pricier than up north. The restaurant’s fine uni sandwich, a smear of musky sea urchin and sweet miso butter on soft ciabatta, is $13 in West Chelsea, $5 more than in Boston.

Or consider Toro’s paella Valenciana, skillet-scorched rice studded with smoky chorizo and briny clams. It starts at $20 in Boston. Here (where the portion size is larger), it’s $38.

Our waiter was quick to recommend the caviar spoon one night. It’s a mix of sturgeon roe, uni, Iberico ham and quail egg. Cost: A single bite for $22. Toro doesn’t even sell it in Beantown, where the spendiest pincho, or snack is $12.

Still, Toro 2.0 is pretty great, operating just a notch or two below the level of La Vara or Tertulia, two of New York’s best tapas spots.

The New England Patriots would surely agree. We spotted tight end Rob Gronkowski on a recent visit. Let’s hope he avoided that caviar tidbit, which has so many frills that the excellent roe seems like a salty afterthought.

Friendly Chefs

Such luxuries are the work of chefs Ken Oringer and Jamie Bissonnette. They spend their time behind the plancha bar doling out maritime jewels such as Moroccan-spiced blowfish tails. They’re as irresistible as Buffalo wings. Oringer might hand them to you personally if you’re one of ten lucky guests sitting at the chef’s counter.

And if you’re not? Well, the enormous restaurant accommodates 120 seated, 50 more in the private dining room and many more standing at the bar.

This isn’t just a bet on New York’s love of Spanish food; it’s a bet on consumer spending and the city’s continued recovery. That wager is paying off, as a prime-time walk-in seat can run you an hour’s wait.

Tough it out with some sherry, at a modest $12, the same as just about every wine-by-the glass here. It’s a clever policy, encouraging diners to choose by preference, not by price.

I’ll take a nutty Amontillado to pair with silky chanterelles and slippery cockscombs. The “combs” taste just like the mushroomy jus they’re sitting in. Or try a tart fino sherry with shredded sea cucumbers ($27), a rare ingredient boasting the sweetness of king crab and the gossamer texture of tissue paper. Worth every penny.

Uncommon Edibles

Toro makes an important statement in its embrace of these unusual edibles, which one might expect at a tiny place scattering to a niche clientele, but not a giant, populist one.

Abalone ($24) is uncommon on the East Coast; too bad Toro misuses that majestic mollusk, turning it into a soggy mop for brown butter. You’re better off with beef heart (sliced thin as prosciutto), aromatic pig ear terrine (bound by porky gelatin), or a crock of jiggly tripe and blood sausage.

Then try smoked-duck drumsticks, essentially poultry pastrami on the bone. They’d be perfect but for a saccharine quince glaze that nearly ruins the dish.

The Toro chefs have a hit-or-miss affair with sugar. They use it to brilliant effect in spaetzle and cod tripe stew. The rib-sticking dish tastes like SpaghettiO’s infused with sea water. But skirt steak with red onion marmalade is a cloying crime against cow.

Nutty Flavors

Careful with luxury items too. Black truffle grilled cheese ($14) is forgettable. Lobster paella with truffles ($45) has little of the earthy taste you’d expect to balance the richness. And Jamon Iberico ($36) is served too cold to let the melt-in-your-mouth fat or nutty flavors shine through.

Toro overreaches with a 60-item-plus menu, but even arbitrary ordering results in a solid meal. Tuna belly is so delicately poached in olive oil it could pass for custard. Tortilla espanola is a flawless omelet, meant for dunking in garlicky aioli.

And pan con tomate sports a wondrous blend of oil, salt and tart fruit. It costs $6 -- just two bucks more than at the Boston location. I’ll take it.

Rating: **

The Bloomberg Questions:

Price: From $6 (marinated cow’s milk cheese) to $90 (steak for two).

Sound Level: Reasonable, around 75 decibels.

Date Place: Yes.

Inside Tip: Stellar cauliflower & kohlrabi ($12).

Special Feature: Great selection of gins and tonics.

Back On My Own Dime? Yes.

Toro is at 85 10th Avenue near West 15th Street. Information: +1-212-691-2360; http://toro-nyc.com.


What the Stars Mean:
****         Incomparable food, service, ambience
***          First-class of its kind.
**           Good, reliable.
*            Fair.
(No stars)   Poor.

(Ryan Sutton writes about New York City restaurants for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

Muse highlights include Jeremy Gerard on theater and Jeffrey Burke on books.

To contact the reporter on this story: Ryan Sutton in New York at rsutton1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at mhoelterhoff@bloomberg.net

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