Toro Cantina brings upscale Mexican to Wolf Road in a glamorous setting — and provides the escape we can all use right now.
Toro is gorgeous, with a fresh teal blue theme that runs across the exterior, glows in the dining areas and livens up the patio umbrellas. From the grand doors at the main entrance to the bounteous trays of homemade nacho chips, Toro impresses. The yawning, cavernous former Wolf’s 1-11 is now a sprawling, resort-like space with plenty of room for social distancing. The bit of occasional Día de los Muertos decor feels edgy and modern.
The palatial space comes in handy right now, but it was not easy getting here. All the work that went into creating the swanky hotel atmosphere came to a grinding halt: Toro opened its doors the same day Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that restaurants would be limited to takeout and delivery only.
On the weekday I met Patrice for lunch the dining room and patio filled up quickly. It seems Toro has an alluring vibe that’s drawing customers.
No, we hadn’t made a reservation, we told the hostess, who advised us that, “Reservations are definitely recommended for dinner.”
No one needs as many chips as they give you in the basket that lands on your table at Toro. But they’re freshly cooked and crunchy and sprinkled with flaky salt, and the salsa is garlicky and complex and nips at your tongue. It’s hard to stop eating them.
We’d chosen a patio table with regular chairs, not the contemporary, thick-cushioned settees and chairs more suited to lounging with your craft margarita than keeping the salsa off your shirt.
Our server announced that it was her first day, but it clearly wasn’t her first rodeo. She was up on the nuances of the menu and had the relaxed dexterity of an experienced server.
“No chicken wings,” I said to Patrice; they sound a jarring note on this menu among the nachos and taquitos, but are probably expedient to include in this market. There are three kinds of guacamole and ceviche, and seven signature sauces you can order to go with those chips.
Toro has tacos, enchiladas and burritos as you’d expect, and the menu is also jazzed up with duck, sweet potato and salmon. The restaurant makes three kinds of tortillas daily. Two roasted chicken tacos are $10.75.
Toro has meal-sized salads, Angus beef steaks and over-the-top dishes like a 14-inch lobster quesadilla for two ($47.95). There is a large selection of wines by the glass, but very little information about them, and a bottle list that mixes reds and whites. There is a world of Mezcal, the original Tequila, though. Try a flight ($25) or just stick to Tequila — there are dozens to choose from.
We started with empanadas ($9.95), two browned, crispy turnovers filled with tender roasted chicken topped with lime cabbage slaw and dressed with cilantro aioli. “I love the coleslaw,” said Patrice. “You can really taste the lime in this.”
I ordered pork carnitas ($10.75), strips of long-cooked meat that shredded obligingly with a fork. I upgraded to a (massive) side of rice and beans for another $5. The meat was unseasoned; it was all about the lovely, pure pork flavor. Served on half-corn, half-flour tender tortillas, the pork was topped with shredded radish and cabbage, and further seasoned with salsa verde and chipotle aioli. The fresh cilantro flavor jumped out, as did the bite of heat from the aioli. I liked my meal a lot.
The side of black beans and cilantro rice sat under the heat lamp long enough to shrivel the cilantro garnish, but not to do any lasting damage.
There were layers of flavor in these creamy beans and bits of crisp, white onion to provide crunch. The cilantro certainly popped up from the rice, though in contrast with everything else going on it was a little dull.
Patrice had chicken enchiladas ($17.95), a massive platter with three of the baked rolls filled with chunks of tender roasted chicken and topped with three kinds of creamy Mexican cheese. In addition to the rice and beans, she got a serving of salad as well. “Perfectly dressed,” she said, of the glistening greens.
“This is so good,” Patrice said, as she tried to make a dent in her meal. She gave high marks to the roasted chicken: It was “not dry, perfectly done.” She liked the seasoning and enjoyed its slight kick of heat.
It’s not on the menu, but you can get a side of guacamole for one ($4) and it is made to order at the guacamole bar under the (not real) avocado tree. It is the most beautiful presentation of guacamole I have ever seen. Served in a traditional footed molcajete, the guac was chunky and piled high, topped with sliced cilantro and one perfectly placed wedge of lime.
“It’s the perfect texture, with lots of chunks of avocado and seasoned just right,” Patrice said. The leftovers didn’t last long once they got home, she said later.
Toro Cantina is being careful during this time. Tables are spread apart, the staff is handing out extra serving dishes for sharing sauces and having you pack your own leftovers. And the staff wears really cool black Toro logo masks.
Need a break from the everyday? Toro Cantina will take you away for a while, with its vibrant and fresh atmosphere and good Mexican food.
WHERE: 111 Wolf Road, Albany; (518) 949-2211; www.torocantina.com
WHEN: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily
HOW MUCH: $62.46 with tax and tip
MORE INFO: Credit cards:
Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover. Children’s menu. ADA compliant. Reservations strongly suggested for dinner and dining in. Takeout available by ordering online.