Wednesday, September 9, 2009


116 S 20th St
Philadelphia, PA 19103
(215) 665-9150

I am a huge fan of Jose Garces, and I (loosely) predict that he is going to be the next Iron Chef. So, on a special occasion last night, I gave Tinto another go-round. This place differs from Amada in that its focus is on Northern Spain - Basque tapas. I must say, they really turn out some exquisite tapas. It is by no means cheap, and the plates are small, but the richness and flavor are quite extraordinary. They recommend 4 plates per person, and being the hungry man that I am, we ordered 9 for the 2 of us. Needless to say, we could have done quite nicely with just 7 - we were stuffed after that first 7, which came out rapid fire, and the final 2 (which happened to be the best) put us over the top.

The first item to come out was a complimentary cheese roll. A crispy Cuban cigar-esque hollow roll, it was served with a dipping sauce of whose ingredients I COULD NOT pintpoint. I do know, however, that that sharp, biting, crispy cheese paired with the provided dipping enigma (possibly a smoked paprika-aioli???) was simply heaven on earth.

Next came the house marinated olives, which were served in an herb-spiced olive oil. These tasted so freshly marinated, they were still clinging to the pit and the flesh was rich, thick and delicious.

After the olives, our Figs wrapped in Serrano ham with a balsamic glaze showed up. These were so decadent. Sweet fig with melting-ly thin sliced salty Serrano and the smooth rich glaze at the base of each one to finish. I could have eaten a dozen of these.

On to the Big Eye tuna tartare croissant sandwich. This was served with a long hot pepper and some tiny dices of fried chorizo. The sandwich was good, but the chorizo was extraordinary - so smoky, spicy and crunchy, I would gladly use it as a garnish for just about anything.

As we were finishing the sandwich, our Arugula salad arrived. This is one of my favorite salads of all time - for 3 reasons (which happens to be the number of ingredients): Arugula, fig, and goat cheese. Arugula is a wonder green; spicy, crunchy and semi-exotic, it has an unmistakable flavor and really plays well with both sweet and savory ingredients. The fig is sweet and juicy, a perfect contrast to the peppery greens. The glory to making this an irresistable trifecta of flavors is, undoubtedly, the inclusion of some of the deep-fried goat-cheese ball in with the other two on every bite. The crunchy, creamy ultra-indulgent cheese was one of the tastiest things I have eaten in recent memory.

Next in line were the best tater tots on the face of this planet. Literally. They were served stacked like a ziggauraut, with a surprise of tomato compote hidden below - like an unseen jewel inside the castle walls. This was all topped (by the server, as the plate hit our table) with a warm, creamy bleu cheese sauce that transcended heaven and earth. The delicious short rib sandwich that arrived soon after, was dipped into every remaining molecule of this sauce, and it did nothing but help the already tender braised shirt rib, served with bacon, asparagus and a celery root aioli. It was a hearty sandwich with plenty of moist, tender short rib meat bursting out the sides.

Starting to feel content, the Berkshire pork belly canape was thrust upon us, topped with a honey liquor and sliced apples. It was so rich that it was ALMOST hard to eat. Luckily, I was able to devour it handily. The belly was a bit crispy and sweet which was teased out by the honey, and the tart apple offset it quite nicely.

So here's where we hit a lull in the food and all of the deliciousness we just ate really started to sink in. I would have called it off right there, if I had been given the chance. But I am certainly glad that I didn't!

After another 15 minutes, we received the final two items - which turned out to be well worth the wait. In all honesty, I wish they would have been brought at the beginning, because I wouldn't have had to over-stuff myself (silly) with their tasty goodness.

The mussels came out first. They were served in a tiny cast iron pot, shelled, in some of the tastiest red sauce I have ever encountered. It was chunky (almost like a tomato-based remoulade), rich, and loaded with mussels & salty chunks of chorizo. (Let it be known that I am a sucker for chorizo.) It was served alongside a cup of well seasoned frites that were perched in a crock atop fresh lemon aioli and was quite a nice and unexpected pairing with the rich seafood pot. I could eat this combo everyday.

The final dish, and lord was I thankful, was the wild mushrooms. They were served with potatoes, shallots and parsley. In addition to my fondness for chorizo, mushrooms are another one of my favorites. [Aside: I make a killer wild mushroom dish myself, and I am going to attempt to incorporate Tinto's crispiness into my own next time. I think that the crisp edges combined with my sherry reduction would result in a collision of deliciousness that will go unmatched.] These mushrooms were large and supple slices that melted in your mouth, with a slight crispness that crunched when you first bite into them. This texture was new to me in the wild mushroom realm, and I will (very) soon attempt to replicate it.

All in all, this was an extremely satisfying night out, and I can only hope to return in the near future. Unfortunately for small restaurant owners in Philadelphia, Garces has set the bar ridiculously high in the genre of tapas.

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