Day One: Toro Brings Barcelona-Style Tapas to Chelsea

By Kelly Dobkin  |  September 24, 2013
Credit: Cherie Cincilla

In an area sorely devoid of affordable, yet outstanding restaurant selections, South Chelsea now has a major contender on its hands in Toro. The Barcelona-style tapas joint is imported directly from Boston, where chefs Ken Oringer and Jamie Bissonnette run a mini-empire of restaurants offering a variety of cuisines. The first NYC project for the Beantown-based chefs is nothing short of a major coup for the NY dining community in one of the most stunning restaurant spaces around. We stopped by last night to get a peek at the space, the vibe and, of course the food. Is NYC still hungry for Spanish tapas? If done correctly, we think absolutely.

The Scene: At 7:30 PM the place wasn't as jumping as we were expecting, but by 8:30 PM, it was nearly packed. Partners Will Malnati and Doug Jacob of Willow Road were also on site last night to make sure all was running smoothly (both are two of our 30 Under 30 honorees). A mix of young professionals, food industry folks and locals filled the other seats. Toro easily pulls off a hip vibe minus any pretention. 

The Space: A serious stunner. The restaurant is located in the former Nabisco factory that you need to walk all the way to 11th Avenue to find. The team behind ABC Kitchen are the brains behind the design, which includes massive 18-foot windows, patchwok reclaimed wood-paneled walls, exposed brick and an indoor ivy wall. You can spot Ken Oringer hard at work at the open-air plancha bar at the back center of the restaurant, which offers bar seating so guests can get a close-up view of the action.

The Food: The expansive menu is divided into smaller snacks, hot and cold tapas, tapas a la plancha and two sizes of paella in three varieties. You'll find traditional bites like pan con tomato and shrimp al ajillo, all done with the pair's signature touch. The caballa tartare (mackerel with coconut milk served in a sardine tin) was one of our favorites, as well as the earthy cuttlefish in its own ink, heirloom carrots with buttermilk, dill and harissa (watch out ABC Kitchen) and mushrooms a la plancha with farm egg. 

The Drinks: While we stuck with a tall glass of red wine (thanks to Caitlin Doonan's old world Spanish picks), the cocktail menu from Matthew Durgin has a large menu of gin and tonics and sherry cocktails. Seasonal sangrias are served on tap and of course, you'll always spot the porron being passed around. 

The Details: 85 10th Avenue; 212-691-2360. (Head to 11th Avenue and 15th Street to find the entrance.)