We had a terrific meeting of Scott Joseph’s Supper Club at Tapa Toro recently. The food, the cocktail and wine pairings, and the attentive service just reinforced my previous notion that TT is a restaurant that locals should visit.
Besides the gracious owners, Katerina and Vassilis Coumbaros, we were tended to by executive chef Wendy Lopez and manager and beverage director Alex Attart. As we gathered in the bar area of the I-Drive 360 restaurant, which sits below the Orlando Eye Ferris wheel, we sipped a refreshing gin and tonic cocktail while some of the servers passed hors d’oeuvres.
We were shown to our private dining room for the evening, a glass-walled rotunda separated from the lounge by billowing red curtains.
Lopez sent out an amuse bouche that she called Faux Foie, a chicken liver pate fashioned into a lollipop on a stick, served with crushed hazelnuts and a fig infused balsamic reduction. The one-biter had all of the mouth filling lusciousness you expect from foie gras (but this one came without the controversy).
Our first official course was Bonito Escabeche, which featured cubes of fresh tuna marinated in lime juice and coconut milk, with olives and cherry tomatoes. A plastic tube filled with olive oil was stabbed into the dish; we were told to squeeze the oil over the fish as we liked. Fun and delicious. To go with the escabeche, Attart served a cocktail he called Arnold Palmer in Valencia. Instead of a traditional AP of just iced tea and lemonade, this one featured ice tea flavored vodka with the lemonade along with muddled orange slices and a splash of soda. Refreshing.
But that wasn’t the only fish dish. The next course was Sardinas, which translates to sardines (you probably figured that out), paired with a Martin Codax Albarino, which is one of my favorite Spanish white wines. The sardines featured a large format of the full-flavored fish with capers and white beans, decorated with a thin brioche cracker that resembled the comb of a flamenco dancer.
Speaking of which, we were treated throughout the evening to a couple of performances from Tapa Toro’s resident dancer, pictured at top, who entertained us with the characteristic heel-stomping steps while clicking her castanets.
The next course was Arroz Negro, a rice dish made black with squid ink, served with grated manchego cheese. La Tremenda Monestrall, a full-bodied red with a wonderful flavor of black cherries, stood up to the rich rice nicely.
We actually got to watch Lopez as she cooked the rice at her paella station in the main dining room.
Pollo al Xeres followed, with coins of chicken served with a melange of vegetables, including baby carrots, peas, pearl onions, olives and mushrooms in a sherry (Xeres) reduction. A 2013 Sangre de Toro Garnacha accompanied.
For the final course, Lopez had a surprise. The staff came to our tables with sheets of brown butcher paper and asked us all to lift our glasses so they could drape the paper across the table. Then Lopez went from table to table smearing a pineapple puree right onto the covered tabletops. Then she added pickled blueberries, candied walnuts, a bit of honey, a cube of Valdeon blue cheese and a pastry purse filled with creamy goat cheese. It was a presentation she created just for the Supper Club, and everyone was wowed (including me). That’s my kind of dessert. And what better to go with it than a cava, a Campo Viejo Brut, in this case.
I’ve been telling people about Tapa Toro since it opened last year, and it’s always something of a sell because so many people refuse to go to International Drive. I get that; it can be a pain at times. But there are some things that are worth putting up with getting there, and Tapa Toro is certainly one of them.
Tapa Toro is at 8441 International Drive, Orlando. It is open for lunch and dinner daily. The phone number is 407-226-2929. By the way, there is free parking in the I-Drive 360 garage and also complimentary valet parking right in front of Tapa Toro.