Torero : Latin Flavor Takes Downtown Tulsa by Storm

By on August 4, 2016

Torero Bar & Kitchen has swaggered boldly onto the Tulsa restaurant scene, channeling its namesake—the bullfighter—in its fearless exploration of flavor. Torero is the brainchild of some of Tulsa food world’s brightest minds. The dream team of Chip Gaberino and Noah Bush—who are behind Tulsa’s unique watering holes The Saturn Room and Hodge’s Bend—along with the executive chef for Hodge’s Bend, Chef Ian Van Anglen, has been planning this restaurant for three years. After extensive research, the compass of their palates led them to Latin America.

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“The countries that we latched onto have a much more international feel to them,” says Chef Van Anglen. Peruvian food has a strong Japanese component, thanks to their thriving Japanese population. Argentinian fare has influences from the Italian and German cultures; and many Cuban dishes mimic Spanish dishes. With so many crossovers from which to draw inspiration, Van Anglen describes it as “a palate of flavors that you can paint different paintings with.” Chef Matthew Owen, formerly with The Canebrake, was brought onto the project and imbued the menu with his expertise on Japanese style cuisine and familiarity with island flavors.

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“The menu really took form with Matt onboard,” says Van Anglen. “The result is something like, if he started out on a boat from Japan, and I left on a boat from Spain, and we both end up right around the tip of South America.” Torero’s menu is broken up into several sections, featuring a few familiar dishes with a distinct twist. The Areapas de Chivo, with shredded beer-braised goat, nestled in its golden corn cake and topped with radish, onion and cilantro, is reminiscent of what authentic Mexican or Central American restaurants prepare in Tulsa. Van Anglen explains Torero isn’t here to replace those Tulsa mainstays. “We don’t want come across as four white dudes opening a place and taking someone else’s culture. We want to pay respect to those flavors, but have our own take.”

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The “opening statement” of Torero’s menu is Ceviche, and their raw bar is taking traditional ceviche to a new level. The Ceviche Mixto is most recognizable, with its citrus marinated shrimp, scallops and white fish. The addition of sweet potato, corn and Mantequilla olives add great texture to the supple seafood.

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Hailing from Peru, tiraditos are like Latin American sushi. The Tiradito Classico is a white fish—on this occasion it was au, a Hawaiian Marlin—that is prepared “sashimi style.” Precisely-cut white fish is surrounded by a pool of passion fruit leche de tigre – or ‘tiger’s milk,’ which is the term for the citrusy marinade left from making ceviche. The passion fruit in this dish is not cloying, and underlines the sweetness of the fish.

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Of all the ceviches, the Aguachile leaves the biggest impression. Thinly slices scallops are served as crudo, or Italian-style raw fish. Again, Torero mixes cultures to produce something different from something familiar. The sumptuous scallops are topped with a perfect dusting of candied lime, then floated in a chilled poblano broth. The chilled broth not only adds incredible depth with its subtle spice, but the temperature creates a unique mouthfeel.For Okies who may be a bit skeptical of seafood in a landlocked state, rest assured, Chef Owen “has a guy” that hits the fish auctions in Hawaii for him every day. “He has a really good eye for fish. If I call him by noon, I will receive it by noon tomorrow.”

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Although many of the dishes on the menu are tapas style, meant for sharing, the Platillos section contains heartier dishes. The Pato en Pipian Verde is a flawlessly roasted duck leg atop a rich verde created from pumpkin seeds, cilantro and a hint of jalapeno. The pumpkin seeds blended in the verde creates a denser verde that is plate-licking good.

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For all the fireworks found on the menu, the focus on libations is evident in the name – it’s a bar and kitchen, after all. But at Torero, the two get equal billing, especially with cocktail aficionado Noah Bush at the helm. “I think the style of food that we are doing is more geared toward beverages, which I like to think of as a condiment. It’s hard to for me to eat a meal without having a beer, wine or cocktail to go with it.”

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The lavish bar, which is vast as it is cozy, sets the mood for Torero. They’ve created a space where guests can relax for hours, while drinking, noshing and having some laughs with friends and family. Bush did extensive research on the generation of bartenders who fled Prohibition-era America to create boozy concoctions around the world. Many of these brave barkeeps penned books of recipes. “I’ve gotten a hold of a digital copies of those books from Chile, Argentina, Peru, Spain. The majority of drinks on this menu are from that era.”
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There are two cocktails that are Noah Bush originals. The Zozobrar is his Latin take on tiki. A stiff cocktail, “zozbrar” translates to “capsize.” His Paladar is a variation on the Manhattan using mescal. Despite a killer cocktail and wine list, Torero considers itself more a beer-forward establishment. The carefully curated selection of almost 40 brews will have every beer fan drooling. It is rare to see a group project come together where the voice of each person remains distinct. But much like the dishes Torero creates, each element sings its song without overwhelming the other. With Chef Van Anglen’s expertise on tapas culture and cuisine, Chef Owen’s proficiency with Asian cuisine and Bush’s cunning behind the bar, Torero Bar & Kitchen will provide Tulsans a new worldview on Latin cuisine and culture.

Torero Bar & Kitchen is located on 2nd and Cheyenne in the One Place Tower. They are open for lunch at 11 a.m. and serve until 11 p.m. Monday through Friday. On Fridays and Saturdays (and during big BOK events) they will be open until midnight.

Angela Evans

About Angela Evans

Angela Evans has been digging deep into the booming restaurant scene of Tulsa since 2010. Her foray into food journalism began with The Urban Tulsa Weekly, but soon expanded to write for TulsaPeople and The Tulsa Voice. Her quirky but informative take on cuisine earned her a Tulsa Press Club Newsie for “Best Critic” in 2014. Finding those hidden gems around town is her passion, as she searches high and low for the best fried chicken or the newest spot to woo your beloved. She also loves shining the spotlight on the chefs, farmers and restauranteurs who keep Tulsa’s cuisine scene vibrant and diverse. After a brief stint out West, she has returned to Oklahoma and has brought her appetite with her. So join Tulsa's own bon vivant on her epicurean adventures.

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