Washington has no shortage of classic steakhouses, but a new breed of South American grills is giving the creamed-spinach set some competition. In addition to the longstanding chain Fogo de Chão are spots by independent restaurateurs such as Jose Garces’s upcoming Argentinian concept Del Campo and, as of next week, Toro Toro. We took a sneak peek at the cavernous pan-Latin eatery before its March 31 debut.
Restaurateur Richard Sandoval is an international name, with 35 concepts and counting from Denver to Dubai, where the original Toro Toro debuted. While not based in Washington, the Mexico City-born chef is in the process of making our city home to more of his restaurants than any other worldwide; the roster is on par with José Andrés’s, including Zengo, Masa 14, two El Centro D.F. locations, Ambar, the upcoming Mango Tree in CityCenterDC, and a still-unnamed casual Mexican eatery for Shaw. Those familiar with the group will recognize many Sandoval signatures at Toro Toro: the low-lit, untzy ambience, a lounge area for sipping cocktails—here a subterranean space equipped with a deejay booth—a weekend brunch that brings bottomless drinks and food, and equally bountiful, eclectic menus during lunch and dinner.
Chef de cuisine Steve Hartzell helms the kitchen, which turns out another Sandoval trademark: small plates melding flavors from South America, Asia, and beyond. (Fun fact: The name fittingly means both tuna in Japanese and bull in Spanish.) Guests can make a meal of dishes such as smoked guacamole, grilled seafood ceviche, various skewers and empanadas, and one of Hartzell’s favorites, the “causa toro toro,” essentially a sushi cake made of purple Peruvian potatoes topped with tuna tartare. Also playing on the East-meets-South theme is a wok station, which flash-cooks chorizo-studded chaufa rice (think Peru’s take on the Chinese staple) and crispy shrimp with pickled chilies.
Being a steakhouse, the other half of the menu is devoted to wood-grilled meats and seafood. Here, things get more locally minded and indulgent: Platters hold the likes of hefty Roseda Farms tomahawk steaks and whole racks of Pennsylvania lamb, while the swordlike “churrasco skewer” arrives laden with layers of steak, chorizo, lamb chops, and achiote-marinated chicken. Tables can also opt for the “rodizio experience” at dinner, which brings tapas, endless grilled meats, prawns, and side dishes for $79 per person. Lunchtime offers a more wallet-friendly express version: a $25 buffet boasting various salads, ceviches, carved meats, desserts, and more alongside the à-la-carte menu.
The eatery officially opens to the public on the 31st, but the lounge and late-night entertainment debuts on Saturday, April 5, with music from internationally known DJ Robbie Rivera. Think of it as a good way to work off that meat sword.
Toro Toro. 1300 I St., NW; 202-682-9500. Full hours begin in April (call for current hours). Lunch Monday through Friday 11 to 3. Dinner Sunday through Thursday 5 to 11 and Friday and Saturday 5 to midnight. Late-night dining Sunday through Thursday 11 to 1 and Friday and Saturday midnight to 2. Brunch Saturday and Sunday 10 to 3.