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Toledo, a Polished if Pricey Spanish Refuge

This is the latest edition of Who Goes There? a regular feature in which Lost City's Brooks of Sheffield cracks the doors on mysteriously enduring Gotham restaurants—unsung, curious neighborhood mainstays with the dusty, forgotten, determined look—to learn secrets of longevity and find out, who goes there.

[Jenny Adams]

I worked for a couple years in the quasi-Murray Hill-ish neighborhood Toledo hides in. Must have passed it by dozens of times and never noticed. No wonder. It seems to recede into the block. It's subdued, dignified stone and brick facade looks more like a private club or a 19th-century firehouse than a restaurant open for business.

This is Toledo's second home since its founding by the Lorenzo family in 1975, and the interior is anonymously polished. White tablecloths, dark wood moldings, large and small oil paintings of unobjectionable still lives. A pacifying, unearthly quiet awaits you in the large, windowless square dining room that sits at the end of a long hall. You quickly forget there's a boisterous and garish Irish pub just next door.

People will pay a lot for this sort of soothing, cocoon-like refuge from the City; for reassuring old waiters in burgundy jackets with black lapels; for an approaching dessert cart; for the oddly comforting sight of Toledo's huge custom-designed china. And at Toledo, they do. This is surely the most expensive place I've ever featured in this column. Entrees hover around $30, and it's not hard to find one over $50 if you really want to get the best of a hundred-dollar bill. But the food is good; very good, in fact, by the standards set by other old, New York, Spanish restaurants. The octopus appetizer was toothsome and delicate (and prepared authentically, according to the Galicia-born bartender). And Toledo's signature baked red snapper was tender and delectable under a blanket of tangy tomato sauce. Remembering the many bad paellas I've endured on this beat, I didn't regret the $35 it cost me at all.

As you might assume, Toledo regulars don't hurt for cash. They skew older, wear navy jackets and look well cared-for. The bartender told me the restaurant has patrons from all over the City (by which he meant Manhattan), but also gets a lot of trade from businessmen in the surrounding area. (Toledo would be a great place for a civilized business lunch.) I've found some old Spanish places get clientele visiting from Iberia. Here? Not so much, said the bartender. Yet, at the end of the bar were three elegant Spaniards, speaking beautiful Spanish, drinking aperitifs. It was tempted to join them, order one of the many Spanish brandies available and extend my visit, whatever the cost. The onerous world—it would never find me in here.
Brooks of Sheffield