Ever since I studied abroad in Córdoba, Spain, in college, I’ve had a special place in my heart for tapas. When I lived outside of Boston, there was one spot in the city that had fantastic small plates (Tapeo), but other than that Newbury Street gem, I’ve had some difficulty locating authentic, quality tapas restaurants.
When my boyfriend and I discovered Torero Paella Bar on an evening walk through the Italian Market, my heart skipped a beat. The restaurant, at 940 S. 9th St., is a modest size but decorated with a tilt toward the modern; red and black (typical Spanish colors) are the primary palette; and photos of tapas bars I’d actually eaten at in Spain run along the side wall. Could this be the tapas spot that I’d been looking for?
I had a good feeling about it, so I made a reservation for Valentine’s Day. During dinner, I took the lead ordering the food. We started with a cheese plate, complete with manchego, cheese cured in olive oil, and this oddly spicy bleu cheese-ish blob that my boyfriend loved but that I stayed away from. The plate also came with pan tomaca--crusty bread topped with this addictive tomato-garlic spread that’s reminiscent of salmorejo.
Next up was the pulpo pedro--grilled octopus with roasted artichokes, oyster mushrooms and boiled potatoes. The octopus was perfectly cooked (overcooked octopus is the worst), and the seasoning was spot on. The mushrooms were nice and tender and earthy, and the boiled potatoes (simply cubed and dressed with olive oil, salt and pepper) were addictively comforting.
Then came the bacalao. I was SO excited to see this fish on the menu--I hadn’t eaten it since Spain. For those of you who might not know what bacalao is, it’s salt-dried cod. Once re-hydrated, this white fish is extremely tender. Torero serves it two ways: bacalao al pil pil (sauteed bacalao with potatoes, garlic, guajillo sauce and green beans wrapped in bacon) and bacalao rebozado (fried bacalao with sauteed broccoli and mashed potatoes). We opted for the bacalao rebozado; oddly decadent, it was aromatic and flavorful.
The paella negra came next. The rice in this seafood paella, replete with cuttlefish, calamari, shrimp and roasted peppers, had the nice substantial chew you want from paella (I lied--overcooked paella is the worst), and the squid ink gave it a nice full flavor that coated your tongue (literally though, our mouths were black).
Halfway through the paella, the jamon serrano plate, again with pan tomaca, landed at our table. As always, the ham was rich and decadent--and it was basically our dessert.
Needless to say, I thoroughly enjoyed our Valentine’s Day dinner, and we’ll most certainly be going back when my next tapas craving takes over. Plus, their “About” page online is all about the head chef--and it’s written in Spanish! Awesome.