Thursday, June 26, 2008

Toro Salao in Old San Juan

367 Calle Tatua
Old San Juan, Puerto Rico
(then click on "restaurants" and "toro salao." This website only worked for me with Internet Explorer)

I didn't bring a camera with me to Old San Juan on this particular day, which is a damn shame because Toro Salao was great! I really hesitated to go, because Toro Salao is one of a conglomerate of restaurants owned by Oof! Restaurants, and I really prefer restaurants that stand on their own, especially if they're family owned. But, I will admit, I keep hearing great things about the series of Oof! restaurants, all of which are unique in design and concept, and include some of tourist's and local's favorite dining and drinking hot spots, such as Koco, Aguaviva, The Parrot Club, Dragonfly and Dragonfly Too, and The Raven Room.

Toro Salao means "salted bull," in Puerto Rican Spanish, and highlights the Puerto Rican tendency to cut words ending in -ado down to simply -ao, a linguistic pattern that takes some getting used to for someone accustomed to Mexican Spanish. The concept of Toro Salao, according to Oof!'s wesbite, is that it pays homage to Puerto Rico's Spanish heritage. Their specialties include sangria and tapas, which are mostly Spanish-Puerto Rican fusion style tapas, such as Spanish Serrano Ham Croquettes with a Guava Glaze. I really enjoyed their grilled flatbread tapas as well. Their entrees are similarly fancy, and include a few traditional Puerto Rican recipes, such as arroz con gandules (rice with pigeon peas) and Puerto Rican morcilla (blood sausage) with Cauliflower Cream, a few Spanish dishes, like Paella and Seared Octopus with Sun Dried Tomato Vinaigrette, and a few fusions, like Seared Pork Loin with Cranberry Chutney & Coriander Mojo or Skirt Steak with Chimichurri Salsa & Smashed Breadfruit. I only had tapas, all of which were excellently executed, and sangria, which was amazing. I tried to write down in my notepad what ingredients they were putting in the sangria, but apparently I must have had a little too much, because all I've got are scribbles. That must be their secret, keep the patrons drunk so they can't steal your secret recipe!

The atmosphere of Toro Salao was perfect. Inside is cool and romantic, with dark colors and Spanish bullfighting pictures on the walls. Outside you can sit at the patio and watch all of the people walk by. Toro Salao is in a prime location! Additionally, the bilingual staff is fun, friendly, and attentive, and you really can't ask for anything more. The bartender told me that this place really picks up at night, making it a great option for a night out as well. Really, no complaints about the food or the atmosphere. Highly recommended!

Overall, my opinion of Toro Salao is as follows:
1. GREAT Sangria!
2. The waitstaff and bartenders have way too much fun working. I almost asked if they were hiring. But, this only adds to the wonderful service.
3. A tiny bit pricey, but worth it.
4. Not far from the cruise ship docks, I would think this would be a great place to stop after getting off the cruise. You could sit outside on the patio, order a pitcher of white sangria and a few tapas, and plan out the rest of your day in Old San Juan.

I recommend visiting the Oof! Restaurants website and checking out all of their restaurants before planning your trip to San Juan. Even though I hate to admit it, word is that they are some of the best on the island. And based on my trip to Toro Salao, this seems to be the case. Happy eating!

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