Inside a remodeled bookstore in Kennebunk Maine sits Toroso; a Spanish inspired Tapas restaurant where the acclaimed chef Shannon Bard (Zapoteca, Portland ME), brings the flavors of Spain using local Maine ingredients. The decor inside is minimalist in a soft subtle way. Modern oil paintings in light blue and grey line the walls above the plush velvet booths. The feel of the room is fresh and relaxing with an air of anticipation from the diners waiting excitedly for the next bite to cross their table.
Nick and I visited Toroso this past Friday evening. We arrived at 8pm hoping to score some of the menu items on their Happy Hour menu. The menu boasts $5 small plates, ½ price wine and beer, and $9 cocktails. According to their website, Toroso offers Happy Hour, from 4:30pm-6:30pm, and from 8pm to close. Unfortunately, when we arrived Happy Hour was not being offered. Nonetheless, Nick and I chose to sit at the Chef’s Table; the coveted spot in front of the open kitchen where we would be able to experience the food first hand and watch the chefs create their dishes from start to finish.
The Chefs Table seating at Toroso was especially unique because the chefs must work ahead of time to prepare each sauce, infused oil, gravy, and protein to make them ready for a quick blast in the pan, a smooth ladle of sauce, and garnish of a pre-picked herb. The Chef’s Table also offers an unprecedented view of the chefs at work, and requires them to be held accountable for their actions, words, and portions.
Our wine pick for the evening was the El Coto de Rioja Crianz. This Spanish red is aged for one year in oak casks and one year in stainless casks. The wine tastes warm from the oak but perfectly balanced with a light brine taste from the stainless. This wine is earthy and spicy but still bright and light to not overshadow the flavors of each dish.
To begin we chose Albóndigas de Cordero or Lamb Meatballs. These meatballs are a blend of ground lamb and oxtail and are served over a cream made with Foie Gras. The meatballs were light and tender and surprisingly juicy, the velvety smooth sauce was also light but rich at the same time, the foie almost dissolving on our tongues. The meatballs had a smoky flavor to them and a tender bite with light garlic notes.
Next bite was the Pulpo a la Gallega; or braised octopus. We watched the chef methodically remove a long tentacle from a braising liquid on the stove and slice it into small rounds. The chef then warmed a potato puree on the stove and tossed the octopus in a Smoked Spanish Paprika gravy. The potato puree was the texture of applesauce and was a mild note to accompany the heavily seasoned Octopus. I felt like if the paprika gravy touched my fingers it would dye them a bright red. The octopus was cut into rounds that highlighted the unpleasant fatty ring around the edge. I wish they had cut the tentacle on a bias and used less gravy or added a squeeze of lemon.
Without a second thought we also ordered the Charcuterie Board. The board featured Serrano Ham, Spicy coarse-ground aged Chorizo and beautiful translucent cuts of Lardo. For the cheeses, there was a beautiful cows milk cheese that tasted like Jasper Hills Oma from Vermont, unfortunately our server did not mention the name. A smoked Manchego was also served along with Drunken Goat- a red wine soaked goats cheese. Alongside was a pineapple jam and toast. The board was wonderful and our server was happy to oblige with more bread. I wish that a light dusting of sea salt had been placed on top of the Lardo to break up the rich fatty ribbons of cured pork fat.
For dessert we had a cheesecake made with Manchego Cheese. This was light and airy and a refreshing end to a flavorful feast. We enjoyed each bite that passed our lips and the entertainment of watching the chefs cook was wonderful. The restaurant was very full for a cold, late, off-season Friday evening. Diners looked happy and comfortable enjoying conversation and small bites. Toroso is a quiet spot that I imagine fills to capacity in the summer months. I look forward to returning for their (in)famous happy hour and seeing where the warmer season takes their menu. If you visit Toroso, or any restaurant for that matter, and the chef’s table is available, take a seat and “Choose-Your-Own-Adventure.”
Toroso is located 149 Port Road in Kennebunk ME. Reservations are accepted. For more information; https://www.torosorestaurant.com/