It’s exciting to see what the big gun hotel groups do in a resort destination, especially one with a pedigree like Miami. Enter the InterContinental Hotel and Toro Toro, a daring new concept in hotel restaurants by Richard Sandoval. The hotel is visible before even setting foot inside, the monolithic building’s exterior sporting a 19 story digital canvas of thousands of LED lights where alternating colors completely bathe the structure, first purple then orange, then red then … Stop! This is a hotel, not a disco. Ah, but that’s exactly where the lines are blurred today and whoever uttered the words, “things aren’t always what they seem” must have been looking into the future of the hospitality field. Hotels are anything and everything these days and it’s their task to surprise the public – Mark Kostabi sculptures on the grounds, no problem; towering 40 feet plant potters by the pool, sure; rhinestone encrusted pool table in the lounge, why, naturally. What we’ve all come to expect upon check-in is definitely not heirloom antiques in a macassar ebony cabinet or dreary paisley drapery. Think pink or think nothing, get it?
Beyond the dramatic porte cochere at the entrance, this flagship InterContinental property has chosen to project earthiness and as a result the expansive lobby is a sea of beige marble … but hold on a minute, there’s a wow factor – a larger than life, fluidly articulated marble sculpture surrounded by a gurgling fountain. Should you have to wait in the lobby you may as well be lulled by the sounds of water, right? Don’t worry, you won’t be waiting. You’ve got a date with that Latin man who just loves to entertain family style and a bevy of sensitively trained servers. Toro Toro (i.e. Bull Bull, hint hint) is tucked away behind the serenity of that lobby tableau and officially opened to the public in October. It is Mr. Sandoval’s Pan-Latin interpretation of a contemporary steakhouse featuring a selection of small plates, steaks and seafood entrees as well as meats carved tableside rodizio* style. Our man (in case you didn’t know) is a James Beard Award nominee with over 34 successful restaurants worldwide. Yes, folks, the steaks, I mean stakes are high here but from what I can tell, RS is up to the task.
Discretely placed brass bull sculptures throughout the raw, industrial looking dining room remind you of the establishment’s DNA, primarily meat oriented, and as part of the hotel’s multi-million dollar redesign Toro Toro screams notice me. The interior draws its inspiration from Latin American design with hand blown light fixtures suspended cantilever-style over banquettes of cushy leather and in the adjacent bar as well with delicate sculptural pendant lights creating a sultry ambience. If you’re staying on for dinner after a round of their fabulous cocktails, I hope you have your flashlight “app” at the ready ‘cause it’s dark, but what else did you expect in Miami where every meal can quickly become a romantic encounter? The cocktail menu by Matt Phillips is a defiantly Latin take on mixology classics, like the margarita and pisco sour but the flavor profiles are pumped up with fresh herbs and fruits. Take the Machu Picchu for example, a devilish pisco sour with St. Germain and jalapeño and the Ring My Bell, a margarita muddled with bell pepper and fresh rosemary. After a long beach day, these craft cocktails, made with ultra-premium Latin spirits, delivered like a secret tonic. Never have I wanted to order another so fast.
We’ve talked about Richard Sandoval before here in detail, especially with regard to DohYo in New York City. His aesthetic is to take simple food to a higher level and that is exactly what he does here. Take for instance the pain de bono, a take on Brazil’s pão de queijo. Here the cheese is removed from the soft pillars of bread and they’re served with a sweet tomato salsa. These little morsels are perfect with drinks and you’ll have a difficult time not asking for another round, of both. For his chef de cuisine Sandoval has recruited Rodolfo Cuadros, an up and coming culinary talent from Colombia who has worked at various Sandoval establishments including the original Pampano in New York City – good Latin DNA is important when you’re aiming to please those Miami denizens.
We were hungry and since the rodizio-style meal is so satisfying and fun, we decided to go with the flow and stick with the Toro Toro concept, the ultimate rodizio experience. To start things off, you choose from a wide selection of small plates, Sandoval’s take on the buffet usually found at a rodizio restaurant. We cooled our palates down with the ceviche Nikkei, sweet ahi tuna with cucumber and sweet potato served with quinoa followed by a grilled octopus, the tenderest I think I’ve ever eaten. Our server Matej proudly proclaimed it had come all the way from Spain (Greece, move over!) and it was really lively with a tangy cilantro sauce accompanied by a German style fingerling potato salad. Entrée selections were from the churrasco and grill a la carte menu, the meats skewered and served for 2, including select cuts of picanha (sirloin steak) and Omaha ribeye, lamb chops, chorizo and achiote marinated chicken served with two sides. The yuca fries, one of the sides to order, are crispy with a soft center and served with a garlic mojo (olive oil, lemon, garlic, herbs & vinegar). This is a new taste that you’ll be happy to experience.
The buzz-worthy scene at Toro Toro’s bar is the best dessert for my money and you’ll have all the sweetness you’ll need in one of their Negritas (a dark margarita with fresh blackberry and pineapple). It was crystal clear when we elbowed our way through the lounge that Mr. Sandoval’s sophisticated and sexy concept had already found a devoted audience in Miami and seemed perfect for the internationally inspired nightlife scene. All I can say is Olé, Olé, Señor Snadoval, you’ve done it again!
*Rodizio – a style of restaurant service in Brazilian restaurants. In most areas of the world outside of Brazil, a rodizio restaurant refers to a Brazilian style steakhouse restaurant.
(Courtesy of Wikipedia)
100 Chopin Plaza
Miami, FL 33131