As a child, the requisite Fourth of July excursion to Bayfront Park any Miami youngster makes was always highlighted by glimpses of the massive tower of the Intercontinental hotel glowing against the lights of the fireworks display. It was the place where important people stayed, important conferences took place, and when I turned fifteen, it became the place where important, adult lunches occurred. The Intercontinental Hotel is still all of that, and it continues to be a landmark part of Miami’s skyline. However, time had brought change to Miami’s lodging landscape in the shape of new luxury hotels bearing the signatures of important designers like Philippe Starck and Kelly Wearstler, and while the monolith building is still impressive on the outside, it was time for the Intercontinental to go through a bit of a makeover to remain relevant the increasingly discerning travelers who come to Miami. The travertine floors and columns, as well as the lobby’s abstract sculpture centerpiece, remain intact, but new high-tech design accents that play on light and color have given the Intercontinental a brand new vitality. As many hotels are now returning to the idea of the hotel restaurant being a formidable dining destination and not just a convenience to hotel guests, the Intercontinental has also replaced its former restaurant with a pan-Latin restaurant concept from Chef Richard Sandoval called Toro Toro, and the new restaurant can be seen as the defining touch of the Intercontinental’s new vibe.
Located at the far end of the hotel’s massive lobby, Toro Toro has an industrial-chic ambience that maintains a warm and inviting feel while still being hip and modern. The restaurant’s bar spills into the hotel lobby and offers the kind of look one expects from a contemporary Spanish tapas bar. However, the association with contemporary Spain stops there as Toro Toro is all about Latin America and its varied cuisine, albeit reinterpreted through the creative hands of Chef Richard Sandoval. Instead of olives or peanuts at the bar, guests are presented bowls of seasoned and toasted corn nuts - a nod to the cancha or canchita that is traditionally served in Andean countries. Additionally, house cocktails represent variations on several of Latin America’s most celebrated cocktails: the mojito from Cuba, the caipirinha from Brazil, the margarita from Mexico, and the pisco sour from Peru. The Machu Picchu, a drink containing Pisco, St. Germain, grapes, and jalapeño had a nice kick from the chile. The Ring My Bell cocktail is perhaps one of the more interesting ones on the menu, consisting of Herradura Reposado tequila, lime, yellow bell peppers, and cointreau with a sprig of fresh rosemary that offered a piney aroma that pairs well with the intricate flavors of the cocktail.
Small plates provide diners with a sweeping taste of Latin America, and many elements and techniques would be familiar to Miami natives. Upon being seated, a platter arrives with freshly baked Colombian pan de bono - it’s crispy yucca flour crust revealing a soft, chewy, and satisfyingly cheesy interior - and is accompanied by a light and tangy smoked swordfish dip served with a tangle of fresh plantain chips and a small jar of spicy relish. The Ceviche Nikkei, an example of Japanese-Peruvian fusion, is perhaps one of the most memorable dishes consisting of diced tuna, avocado, cucumber, soy, and ginger. Instead of serving the traditional round of boiled sweet potato on the side, Chef Sandoval incorporates tiny cubes of crunchy, barely cooked sweet potato into the dish, and the traditional crunchiness of toasted chulpe corn is replaced with the subtler crispiness of toasted quinoa. The most surprising element, however, is the use of ají panca, a smoky dried chile that is typically not found in ceviches. Shrimp anticuchos present a twist on a popular Peruvian street food, and while the pu pu platter presentation can be a bit offputting to some, the skewers of shrimp are are expertly cooked and exquisitely tender. Ham croquettes, while possibly inspired by those of Cuba, are remarkably different from anything one would find at a bakery on Calle Ocho. Toro Toro’s crispy fried spheres reveal a liquid center that is redolent of ham flavor with a little something extra that reminds me a bit of Cuban bocadito, a cousin to deviled ham.
Toro Toro literally means “Bull Bull” in Spanish, and as the name would imply, Chef Sandoval’s Miami outpost is all about grilled meats, focusing, of course, on those traditions of Latin America. A fourteen ounce mixed grill presents a few traditional items like the popular Brazilian cut of steak, picanha, as well as Argentine chorizo sausage. There are also beautifully prepared lamb chops, achiote rubbed chicken, and New York strip steak. A small jar of Argentine chimichurri accompanies the meats, but Chef Sandoval’s chipotle barbecue sauce is definitely the star when it comes to condiments. Accompanying sides like a dish of asparagus and broccolini or a more traditional plate of yucca fries are subtle and don’t take attention away from the meats.
Overall, Toro Toro is a perfect place for cocktails, small bites, and generous portions of meat with a unique and modern ambiance in a location that is central to pretty much anything one might want to do. In a culture that is increasingly paying more attention not only to good design, but also to good food, it seems as if the Intercontinental Hotel is making all the right moves to be on par with some of the hottest hotels in Miami. It will still be the place for important people attending important conferences, but with restaurant like Toro Toro, the Intercontinental is now promises to be so much more.
Located inside Intercontinental Miami
100 Chopin Plaza
Miami, FL 3313