Co-chefs and owners Ken Oringer and Jamie Bissonnette of Boston (with partners Will Malnati and Doug Jacob) bring their regional Spanish flavors and farm-fresh ingredients to life with modern tapas offerings. Designed by New World Design Builders (of ABC Kitchen and Willow Road fame), the 120-seat dining room with industrial design elements offers a wink to the building’s history as a former factory.
Beyond paellas and charcuterie, the Manhattan menu offers dishes of sea beans and parsnip, lamb tartare with chocolate mint, radish yogurt and berbere spice, smoked duck drumettes with quince glaze, baby squid with toasted bread and farm egg, and catalan stew of lobster. A dedicated plancha bar serves abalone with brown butter, parsley and migas.
DuJour caught up with Oringer and Bissonette about the move south to New York City.
What’s going to be different food wise between Boston and NYC?
Ken: The menu in New York is different from Boston in many ways, although we did bring some of our signatures over like the dates stuffed with cabrales and wrapped in jamon, grilled corn with aioli and cotija, and patatas bravas. In New York we have access to different kinds of product, including some incredible seafood that’s a lot harder to source in Boston. For example, we can feature espardenas (Catalan sea cucumbers) on the menu nightly and run specials like live scallops and urchin. Also our kitchen is much bigger so it allows us to have a more elaborate menu.
What kind of crowd do you think this new space will attract?
Ken: One of the great things about opening a new restaurant in New York is that it attracts all kinds of people—it’s such a diverse city. We wanted to create a place that would be good for a quick after-work drink and maybe a quick bite at the bar, a long dinner with friends or a night out. The menu isn’t limiting in that way—you can choose the kind of experience you want.
What have you learned from the other location that you can instill here?
Jamie: The friendly, convivial dining experience is such a big part of who we are in Boston, and it was important for us to bring some of that over. That’s a big reason why we put these communal tables in the center of the dining room. You can come on any given night and see people sharing a porrón and having a good time.
Are you experimenting with new ingredients and dishes?
Jamie: We’re always experimenting in the kitchen and even though our menu is big, we still like to run nightly specials. It’s important that we pay homage to the classics, but it’s the creativity that keeps us excited. And we’re always trying to source new and cool ingredients. We recently had these incredibly fresh percebes (goose barnacles) from Portugal that we served in a bamboo steamer with an aromatic oil for dipping.
What’s your favorite dish on the NYC menu?
Jamie: Tripe is one of my favorite ingredients, so I would have to go with the morcilla y callos. It’s a tripe stew with heirloom beans, and we top it with house-made morcilla sausage. To me it’s the perfect dish for a cold fall night. Also since it’s white truffle season, we’re running this special of soft scrambled eggs with shrimp that we shave white truffles on, and it’s pretty ridiculous.
Ken: One thing I never get sick of is paella valenciana. It has shrimp, mussels, chorizo, clams, chicken and is so classic yet so flavorful. I also love the fresh seafood from the plancha bar like the txipirones and abalone.
What’s been the most popular new or old dish so far at the new location?
Ken: One of the most popular dishes so far is the Erizos con Caviar, a spoon with caviar, sea urchin and a quail egg topped with jamon iberico, and that actually surprised me. I think the first night we ran out of urchin so quickly because we didn’t anticipate just how many people would order it.
What do you love about this location?
Ken: Being in South Chelsea, we have the best neighbors. We’re right around the corner from Tom Colicchio, Mario Batali, Mark Ladner and other incredible chefs and restaurants. When we first saw the space, we knew we wanted to take it. It was important to us to have the restaurant feel comfortable and have a good flow, which is why we put this plancha bar in the back by the ivy wall. It brings so much energy to the back of the dining room.
What’s missing from the NYC food scene that you’re hoping to fill with Toro?
Ken: The New York food scene is incredible. I don’t think it’s a matter of what it’s missing, as much as we just feel lucky to be a part of it.
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