Tapas, Take Two

1216049344As if the South End doesn’t already overwhelm diners with tough choices (Chocolee or Aroa? Stella or Rocca? Flour or the Buttery?), Thursday night saw the official opening of the neighborhood’s second trendy tapas spot, Estragon.

And, since the Boston staff has more than a few ardent fans of chef Ken Oringer’s Toro—some of whom can be found there several nights a week—a handful of curious editors were on hand to try out the competition.

A new venture by Julio de Haro and Lara Gavigan, who hail from Brookline’s beloved Taberna De Haro, the business is actually two in one. There’s Estragon, the tapas bar, and there’s Las Ventas, a small grocery stocked with Spanish specialties.

Upon arrival, we were greeted by a glass of super-refreshing red wine sangria. As we nibbled on Manchego cheese-filled croquettes, toast rounds topped with beef tongue and peppers, and wonderfully fatty jamon blanco with honey and almonds, we scoped out the scene.

Designed to evoke ‘30’s Spain, it’s full of art-deco touches like geometric mirrors, a black-and-white tile floor, and gold-toned floral wallpaper. It’s less theme-y and more restrained than expected, and could even stand a little more flamboyance, décor-wise. But spinning flamenco dancers provided plenty of flash for the evening, while a giant pan of paella and a whole leg of jamon were sufficient to impress.

Still, I had to wonder: will Estragon’s refined vibe cut into Toro’s always-giddy scene? So, intrepid reporters that we are, we made a beeline from the Estragon party to Toro’s Running of the Bulls fete. Though we arrived a bit early, the festivities were in full swing, with videos of the famed Pamplona celebration playing on the walls. We scarfed down gambas al ajillo, tomato bread, and queso blanco-topped grilled corn, and took turns swilling wine from a glass porron pitcher.

It was then that we realized: while we’re glad to have Estragon in the neighborhood, Toro’s still our fallback spot for (over) indulging with friends. I’ve still got the headache to prove it.

Estragon and Las Ventas, 700 Harrison Ave., Boston, 617-266-0443, estragontapas.com