This is The Gatekeepers, in which Eater roams the city meeting the fine ladies and gentlemen that stand between you and some of your favorite impossible-to-get tables.
General Manager Jen Fields has been with Toro for over three years. In that time she's seen her friend, chef Jamie Bissonette, star on the Food Network's Chopped and win "The People's Best New Chef" award from Food & Wine. Tonight Toro celebrates its 6th anniversary.
What's the busiest time of the week? Jen Fields, General Manager:
Friday and Saturday nights, probably from 6:30 to nine... ish. We usually fill up right around 5:30, though. And we serve food until 11:45 on weekends.
How long is the wait?
It tends to depend on the night, but I'd say on average, for bigger parties it can be a two hour wait.
What's the wait for two people?
That would probably be an hour to an hour and a half. People will drink at the bar and try to get down at the bar, where there's a two-top, or they'll go walk around the neighborhood and we'll take their number and call them when we're ready.
How many seats are in the dining room?
We can seat about 65 people.
How would you describe your clientele?
I think we have a pretty diverse following. There are people from all over the world, lots of college students, people from all over Europe, people from Spain. But they're generally pretty nice people. And they're pretty into food.
We have a lot of people that play for the Pats and the Red Sox come in, and usually if there are people shooting movies in town they'll come in while they're here. Cameron Diaz was in here a few months ago. She's been in a few times, actually. That was pretty cool. The staff was excited about that.
What's the strangest request that you've accommodated?
We don't really get anything that's that weird. We generally try to accommodate anything we can. Mostly it's just people offering exorbitant amounts of money so we can get them in line so they can get a table. It's kind of rough, because most of my hosts are poor college students, and someone will come in and offer them a thousand dollars, and we don't take bribes at all, but part of me wants to be like, okay, take that guys' money because I know you need it.
Wow. A Thousand? Has that happened?
Somebody offered one of my hosts $800. In general that's probably the highest I've heard, but maybe someone's gotten more and just not told me about it. I hope not.
What's the most popular dish?
Probably the corn. The elote, which is grilled corn that we toss in aioli and Cotija cheese and black pepper. It's pretty popular. On nights when we're out of it, which happens once or twice a year, we have to actually tell people at the door before we take their names because if they wait, they sit down, and then they find out that we're out of it they go nuts. They totally freak out. It's kind of funny. It's sort of insane: people get very upset about it. We once had a large party that had already waited an hour and we ran out of it and they somehow heard and got really mad and left. It's two ears, so four pieces in an order. It's pretty rich.
When you're not at Toro, where are you eating these days?
I love Neptune Oyster, which is sort of funny that I would head to a place that also doesn't take reservations on my day off, but I really love that restaurant a lot. I really like Island Creek a lot, I love Hungry Mother, I love Oleana: it's probably my favorite restaurant in Boston.
Have you ever offered anyone $800 to get a seat there?
No. I think I've become so used to dealing with the door at Toro that I've become overly polite when it comes to those situations, because I know how hard it can be.
Have things changed since Jamie Bissonette won Food & Wine's "The People's Best New Chef?"
I think that it's made people a little more aware. We were already pretty busy but there's definitely people coming in asking if he's there and wanting to meet him, which is cool. People have tried to take pictures with him, more since he's been on Chopped. It's so funny because I've been friends with Jamie for ten years, so to see the evolution of him just being a cook in Boston that I knew and used to drink with and him becoming this big deal chef is really cool. He's stayed completely grounded, which is awesome. He's still just a normal guy, you know. He's a great chef, he puts out really consistent, awesome food that's always perfectly seasoned. He still pretty much just works at Coppa and Toro during the week. It's not like he's taking more time off now. Aside from some appearances that he does and when he's teaching in the gastronomy program at BU, he's either on the line at Toro or Coppa.
How often is Ken Oringer in the kitchen?
He comes and helps out occasionally. He does have a lot of input in the food. He's involved in six restaurants at this point and has two little kids, so he's got a lot going on, but he's definitely around a lot. He comes in, tries the food, and talks to the cooks about what specials they're running.
What are Ken and Jamie like when they're together?
They work really well together, which I think is the reason they've formed this relationship. They have really similar palates. If you see them both try a plate of food that they're not happy with, the stuff that they'll pick out is exactly the same.
What's the must-order dish at Toro?
My favorite thing on the menu is the bone marrow. I think a lot of people are afraid to get into offal. It's a little intimidating for them. The servers will try to talk people into it and they're like "I'm not going to eat bone marrow." But everyone that tries it just loves it. It's a roasted shin bone, served with bread that they roast in the pan so it soaks up all the flavors, like the best crouton you've ever eaten, and then they put an oxtail marmalade on the bread. And there's a citrus and radish salad.
It's nice to work somewhere we're I'm really proud of everything we put out. There's nothing in our kitchen that I wouldn't want to eat.
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