Monday, January 28

Tinto Wine Bar, Philadelphia

Last night I had the pleasure of dining at Tinto in Center City Philadelphia. Jose Garcia, the executive chef at Amada (my favorite restaurant in Philly) opened Tinto last spring with the idea of a tapas and wine bar similar to Amada but focusing on the Basque cuisine indigenous to northern Spain.

I started with a glass of Castell Roig ("roych") Cava Brut, and my friend tried the Palacio De La Vega Navarra Reserva (Tempranillo), which was nice but a bit oakier than I/we expected. We selected five dishes (our server, Brett, recommended three per person, but we were planning ahead for dessert), and while we were waiting he presented a plate of Mahon cheese crisps with a fantastic smoked tomato coulis. Brett was incredibly helpful, friendly, and knowledgeable, and definitely contributed to the whole dining experience.

Our first plate was De Txanguro A La Vasca (pictured, left), a bruschetta with jumbo lump crab, avocado, and espelette chile. The mix of creamy and crisp was a lovely combination, and the crab salad was prepared so well. Next came the Bonito Bocadillo: I learned that "Bocadillo" means "sandwich", and we have Spanish bonito tuna on our menu at Tria. So this was a sandwich of marinated tuna with creme fraiche, red onion escabeche, and an anchovy, served on a croissant. My favorite part was honestly the anchovy -- anchovies really aren't used often enough, in my opinion. Just as we were finishing the last bits of croissant the runner presented Revueloto de Langosta, a round of lobster and asparagus shired eggs, served with an oyster cava cream and toasted baguette. The consistency didn't seem overwhelmingly appetizing, but the flavors and richness of the dish came through.

After the seafood rounds my Cava was running pretty low, and when the next two dishes arrived I knew it was time to switch to a red. First came the Patatas Asturianas. Patatas! Potatoes! Get it? These were fried and served on top of a tomato compote, and at the table the server doused them with a lovely La Peral cream. Just as we were starting to savor the combination of crispy, creamy, salty flavors, the Hongos a la Plantxa arrived -- wild mushrooms roasted on a plank, tossed with truffle oil, and served in a small cast iron skilled atop roasted potatoes and shallots. I downed the last couple sips of cava and we ordered two glasses of the Navarra Evohe (I believe the grape was "Garnatxa"?), which complemented the earthy notes of the food rather well.

That was our five, but we wanted one more taste before dessert. Brett recommended the Arroz con Almejas, a rice dish topped with clams and shaved artichokes, and served with a Mahon cream. This was r-i-c-h. It was practically dripping butter, and the tasty cream began to congeal as it cooled, shimmering with fat. It was delicious, but sort of reminded me why I enjoy living a low-dairy lifestyle.

So it's a good thing that for dessert we selected the Torta de Aceite de Olivia, a yellow cake made with olive oil instead of butter and served with vanilla marcona almond creme and housemade blood orange marmalade. The combination of cake, cream, almonds, and marmalade made for the perfect bite. We paired this with a glass of Pedro Ximinez sherry, which literally tasted like drinking a freshly-picked fig. Brett recommended drizzling it over whole-wheat pancakes, perhaps with some poached figs. YUM.

All in all I really enjoyed Tinto, but Amada still reigns as my favorite Philly restaurant. Basque cuisine seems to be a bit richer and heavier than other Spanish foods, and perhaps not quite as spicy. That said, I plan to find a recipe for olive oil cake a.s.a.p., and maybe a bottle of Pedro Ximinez, too.

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