My Birthday @ Tinto

It still baffles me why Tinto, the second Philadelphia restaurant by Chef Jose Garces, is so much better than Amada, his debut restaurant that I gave a lukewarm review only a few months back.

Granted, I may be bias because Tinto is less than a hundred steps from my apartment. However, I think it also has some objective advantages:

1. It’s small. Although the construction next door seems to be an obvious attempt to increase the serving space, right now the restaurant is small and cozy, with mesmerizing views of the cooks in action (if you’re lucky enough to be seated on the main floor).

2. It’s new. It’s been open a couple months, but people are continuing to discover it. The menu is still somewhat fresh to the cooks and they probably put a little more effort into preparing the food. After all, it hasn’t been reviewed by everyone yet.

3. It’s subtle. Maybe this is also because of its size, but I like that the decor is bit more understated. I just don’t get that super-trendy vibe that Amada puts off. The concentration is on the food.

Our first time in the restaurant was the second night it was open. This time, it was my birthday, and despite the rain and a somewhat foul mood, my wife dragged me down the street to what would be an outstanding dinner.

I’ve heard you’re not supposed to go to a restaurant on a Monday (because of the Sunday food delivery lag-time), but I didn’t notice a dip in quality. To wit:

DE POLLO (chicken, garbanzo puree, truffle jus, thyme marinade)


This isn’t the exact picture, but it’s close. Skewered pieces of amazingly marinated chicken and grapes are placed within tall shot glasses (or “test tubes” as I like to call them) filled garbanzo puree and truffle jus. It’s actually one of the cheapest things on the menu, but also one of the best.

DE SALMON (smoked salmon, caviar, croissant, queso de cabra, crispy shallot)

This was the first thing to come out, and in retrospect, I’m surprised we ordered it. Regular Foodood readers already know my aversion to goat cheese. What you may not know is that I took several years of Spanish in high school, which failed me miserably when I agreed to this one. HOWEVER, it was a tasty little sandwich. It’s a real testament to this dish that I willingly ate goat cheese and actually enjoyed it. The mix of flavors was really inventive.

TXANGURRO A LA DONOSTIA (san sebastián baked crab, tomato-shellfish jus)

This dish came out last and was definitely our least favorite. I can’t say it was bad, but it was quite heavy and teaming with spices. It was just a little overloaded, especially for a last bite. I know you can’t control the order of tapas, but I would have liked this better somewhere in the middle of our dinner.

VIEIRAS CON PANCETA (sea scallops, benton’s bacon, cider emulsion, green apple)

Probably the most expensive thing we ordered, but well worth it. Though the scallops were slightly tough (the only thing I attribute to the Monday curse), they were perfectly seared. The accompaniments, however, were the real highlights. The foam ( the cider emulsion I believe) was particularly interesting, and the mixture of sweet and salty really sang on the palette.

HONGOS A LA PLANTXA (wild mushooms, roasted potato, shallot, parsley)

I’m sure this is meant to be more of a side dish to a meat or fish, but damn was it tasty. If I had this at home, I’d probably mix it in with just about everything. Mmm-mmm good.

BANANAS Y AZAFRÁN (chocolate cake, caramelized bananas, saffron crema)

I don’t know how they can get away with calling this “cake” – I couldn’t sense even a sprinkle of flour. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Definitely more solid than mousse, the cake seemed to be more of a molded ganache.

But who cares what shape it took; it was amazing. This was also the most interesting dessert presentation I’ve seen in a while. The cake was in the middle of a long, rectangular plate with a dollop of the cream on top. Then, on either side, were three slices of the caramelized bananas, and more dollops of cream. If it weren’t chocolate, I’d consider hanging it on my wall.

Summary

Well, Tinto is two for two. I’d suggest you get there soon, however. Once they expand into the adjoining space and the cooks get bored, it may be too late. I’d really hate to see this place go the way of Amada.

Remember, tapas masters: smaller is better.

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