Tinto, Philadelphia

Tinto, owned by Chef Jose Garces, the new iron chef, is the 3rd tapas restaurant I’ve been to in the last 2 months and is by far the best. I love the concept of tapas, tasting a series of different items rather than sticking to an appetizer and entree is so my thing. Life is all about choice and trying new things. I just like to enjoy a restaurant to its fullest, tasting many different flavors and getting the complete essence of the place. Plus I just love spanish wine, and if you add a few spanish waitresses then you have the recipe to a perfect meal occassion. Tinto wins on 2 of 3 counts…read ahead to see where it misses.

My brother was in town visiting from England on business for 2 days so I agreed to meet him in downtown Philadelphia. I had just returned from Washington DC that afternoon after an amazing dinner at Citronelle. Amazing is an understatement! I was pretty satisified from a food perspective, though what the heck, I was ready to dine out again if that is what was needed. After doing a little online research I ended up picking Tinto, because its a tapas place with strong reviews.

After driving through a pretty heavy downpour from the Princeton area and finding covered parking – hey, I drive a Porsche and I need to find just the right place to park my baby – I turned up about 20 minutes late to find my brother nursing a beer in the adjoning bar which was a little crammed but seemed like a good place to hang out. It was pretty busy with an attractive crowd.

Tinto is owned by chef Jose Garces who also owns Amada and 4 other restaurants. He was a winner of the James Beard Foundation award for best chef mid-atlantic region in 2009. Tinto is based on food from the Basque region of Spain.

The restaurant is relatively small, pretty much a narrow long space which is tastefully decorated, nothing too extravagant. It doesn’t really stand out but it’s nice. Our waiter (not an attractive spanish waitress, actually a guy!) was helpful and made good suggestions and seemed pretty knowledgeable. We ordered a glass of wine each, a Rioja naturally though their wines by the glass list is realtively limited – they didn’t have any priorats (not many places do) which was a little disappointing. I love priorats, my favorite, a definite must try!

We ordered a bunch of stuff. And as a first for me we didn’t order any pork belly even though they had it on the recipe. Not ordering it required an amazing amount of restraint from me because I LOVE pork belly, but my brother doesn’t eat pork – he has no idea what he is missing. We ended up ordering scallops (fabulous), pulpo (baby octopus – very good), kobe beef (good), beef and lobster (ordered twice – very good), olives and asparagus. Each dish came with it’s own sauce which were all really good. Without exception everything was perfectly cooked to the right doneness, just perfect and really well seasoned and flavored.

Service was efficient and helpful, just light on the hotness factor! Though the clientele wasn’t bad. Food was great. Wine selection was pretty good. The only thing that was annoying was the crammed space. Pretty much everytime someone walked by my table they kicked my chair – so damn annoying. It doesn’t help that I have a personal space issue.

Overall I would say that this is a definite must go to place. If I lived closer I would go often. Why can’t we have places like this in Princeton?

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