Miami’s iconic Hotel InterContinental, with its dramatic tower and 70-ton Henry Moore sculpture, finally has a restaurant worthy of its surroundings.
Toro Toro by restau-preneur Richard Sandoval, whose portfolio spans the globe from Dubai to D.C., is a natural for Miami. It’s a place for visitors seeking authentic flavors without a trek to Little Havana for rice and beans or a Brazilian steak joint for churrasco. You can find all those things and much more here on a menu meant for sharing and exploring. It’s a Latin primer in a casual but upscale setting attended by a charming staff.
The studied, rustic patina of the dining room is a stark contrast to the lobby’s shiny travertine marble. Beyond the bellboys and Starbuck’s, the chocolatey wood floor, teaky tables and deep leather couches create a warm ease. Dozens of thick glass jars hang over bare bulbs illuminating the space like fireflies. Namesake metal bulls dot the décor while accents of red add a needed dash of color.
A wide and welcoming L-shaped bar is worth a stop for a cocktail like the signature Ring My Bell, a bell pepper and rosemary-spiked margarita with a zing. A hundred-bottle wine list is global and value-priced but has only a few by-the-glass selections.
Every meal starts with a plate of warm, golden, pan de bono, golf-ball-size cheesy rolls made with yuca flour, making them gluten-free and addictive.
Dozens of tapas to share include predictable (and non-Latin) picks like a small but perfect heirloom caprese salad with burrata and a basket of lightly fried calamari given spicy flair by a creamy chipotle dipping sauce.
The flat bread pizza with gently wilted mushrooms, goat cheese, a whisper of truffle oil and a confetti of newborn arugula is another carby delight. Stunning towers of crisp, slightly crumbly arepas are haystacked with a lusciously tender threads of short rib and the tiniest dabs of crema and guacamole.
Standouts from around Latin America include a delectable lamb anticuchos, ground, skewered and grilled until lightly browned but still pink inside and served with a minty yogurt dipping sauce.
Another exceptionally good starter is the smoked swordfish dip seasoned with bits of pickled chiles and tomato, ready to scoop onto boat-shaped arcs of salty, fried plantain.
Another fight-over-it dish is the slim, gently grilled octopus tentacle cut neatly and served with an emerald green cilantro sauce and kicky Peruvian adobo. Good, too, are the crisply fried empanadas stuffed with raisin-studded picadillo.
A Brazilian-style churrasco is reason enough to come here. Inconceivably tender skin-on achiote chicken, a plump chorizo, three slender but perfectly juicy lamb chops, a chunky rib-eye and an absolutely perfect crown of picanha (top sirloin) can be ordered for two or as an all-you-can-eat deal.
Quibbles? Many tapas plates arrived with three items, an awkward number when diners generally arrive in pairs. Super fresh hamachi tiradito lozenges soaked in an insipid soy sauce infused with tajin (a Mexican spice blend) were nearly inedible, and a simple rice and bean side was as dry as chalk.
But desserts and coffees made for a happy ending. An impossible-to-choose-from selection found us sticking with a familiar favorite of churros, served hot and golden with an extra kick from a gentle dusting of cinnamon and five-spice powder.