On tapa the world

Favorite Stone Oak restaurant charges into downtown with second location and speakeasy

Stone Oak restaurant charges into downtown with new location and bar

Toro Kitchen + Bar San Antonio paella
Toto has brought its award-winning paella to a new location in downtown's St. Paul Square. Toro Kitchen + Bar/ Facebook

One of San Antonio’s top restaurants is giving the city a second helping. On August 17, Spanish favorite Toro Kitchen + Bar debuted a new location at 1142 E. Commerce St. in St. Paul Square, along with a stylish new speakeasy.

Co-owner Gerardo De Anda tells CultureMap that expansion was always in the works for the concept. Although the Stone Oak Toro was De Anda's first foray into the restaurant business, he hopes to develop the restaurant into a chain. “I told myself,” he says, “within a year, I have to open a second location or it isn’t a business.”

To that effect, the new downtown restaurant has the same menu that made the original such a success. Expect a strong cured meats and cheese program; tapas like patatas bravas, jamón croquettes, and fried calamari; and — of course — the restaurant’s award-winning paella.

The Commerce space is slightly larger than the first location. Although De Anda says the number of seats is about the same, the new digs provide a little breathing room and square footage for wine and serrano ham cellars.

It also provides a big bonus in a basement space, which the owners have transformed into Cellar Mixology, a subterranean bar open Wednesday-Saturday. The concept was inspired by the phrase “sub rosa,” meaning happening in secret, and the team incorporated rose motifs in the design.

“Throughout history, roses have been known to represent secrecy, privacy, and confidentiality,” explains De Anda, making them the perfect emblem for a speakeasy.

Although Cellar serves more traditional drinks, it sets itself apart by exploring molecular mixology, a technique that uses scientific methods like liquid nitrogen blasts to create new cocktail experiences.

Under the guidance of industry veteran Hector Vargas, the bar will slowly expand to offering “liquid intelligence” — an approach to alcohol that tinkers with cocktail’s forms by presenting “drinks” as chocolates or candies or removing all pigments for a totally clear drink.

Traditional Spanish fare, however, is still the base of the bar’s food menu. Cellar features four tapas and a selection of six conservas, seafood like razor clams, baby squid, and anchovies served in cans along with bread. If that sounds a little too Chicken of the Sea to you, De Anda reminds that, in Spain, conservas are a delicacy that often fetch a hefty price.

De Anda, who has lived in San Antonio since high school and graduated from University of Texas at San Antonio, says the city is ready for something different. “The example of Toro is proof that San Antonio is ready to grow up culinary and mixology wise,” he says.

That theory will be put to the test as the owners eyes future San Antonio ground for expansion and hint at a couple of new concepts up their sleeves. Though he hopes to eventually expand to Austin, Dallas, and Houston, De Anda continues to be inspired by the hometown culinary boom over the past few years. “It feels good to be in the green stages,” he says.