It’s a proven recipe for success: Jamie Bissonnette and Ken Oringer team up to open a new restaurant. But it’s been nearly seven years since the dynamic duo behind Toro and Coppa last hung a shingle here, with new Toro outposts in New York and Bangkok—and soon Dubai—taking their attention.
Now the wait is over, as mid-July saw the opening of Little Donkey, their 90-seat spot in Central Square. “It’s like when they say you’re bringing the band back together,” Oringer says. “All the people who have helped open our other restaurants here have come to help out. It’s an amazing management team, and it’s nice to really feel the community.”
Bissonnette echoes that sentiment. “Whenever we do something together, it’s always more fun,” he says. “And I think the food is better when we work together. We’ve been doing it now for a long enough period of time that with some of these sections you don’t even remember whose idea each dish was.”
The dinner menu is split into sections for charcuterie, hors d’oeuvres, pastas and grains, vegetables and salads, and meat and fish. Early staff favorites include a little gem salad with Louis dressing, heirloom tomatoes and migas as well as a pickle brine fried chicken sandwich with papaya slaw, jalapeno and avocado ranch. But it’s the donkey platter that’s really exciting Oringer. The dish features seafood such as live sea urchin, king crab, live scallops, striped bass ceviche, salmon roe, oysters, clams and tuna poke served with rye bread, nori butter and sea salt.
“It’s kind of a riff on what they serve at raw bars in France and Brittany,” Oringer says. “That’s something that if you’re with a group of four people, I’d love to see one of those on every table, that’s for damn sure.”
With breakfast and lunch service planned to start in mid-August, as well as blackboard late-night specials, there are even more dishes in the works. Breakfast—Bissonnette’s favorite meal of the day—was inspired by the pair’s travels around the world but will also include baked goods such as miso banana bread and plum galette. Vikram Hedge (Sarma, Island Creek Oyster Bar) will spearhead the cocktail program, while Jodie Battles, the current beverage director at Toro, will hold the same role at Little Donkey, picking a lineup of local and sour beers as well as a global wine list.
“She knows us really well. She understands the flavors that go with the kind of foods that we like to cook,” Oringer says. “It’s been great to see her get out of her element of picking mostly Spanish or mostly Italian wines. Now we have a list that can have wines from anywhere you can imagine, and it does.”
The chefs are likewise savoring the freedom that comes with serving globally influenced dishes at all times of day. “This became a restaurant we wanted to do that was an outlet for us, and it wasn’t Spanish and it wasn’t Italian,” Bissonnette says. “We can cook like we’d be cooking if we were at home.”
Little Donkey 505 Mass. Ave., Cambridge (617-945-1008) littledonkeybos.com