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Jul 2, 2009 01:29 PM

Tinto First visit

I went to Tinto for the first time last night with a friend. I love Amada, but was a little disappointed with Distrito. However, since Tinto seems more like Amada in theme and menu, I was really looking forward to it. Overall, as has been noted in other reviews, the biggest detractors are the service and horrible pacing of the dishes. If the food had been fabulously delicious and creative, these things might not have been as frustrating; however, there were only 3 dishes I could be tempted to come back to try again, and then only if it were possible to go on a non-busy night.

Entrance: It's pretty easy to find and there was a waiter out front who opened the door for me. The host stand is right by the door, so you are immediately (and pleasantly) greeted.

Surroundings: It's *very* crowded (extremely so for a Wed. night). Tables are close together and paths are narrow. I was sitting on the aisle in one of the narrow points and had people occasionally trip over me--including one waiter. The seats were comfortable and not too tall for people with short legs. (Yay!) I guess the decor is what one would call ‘understated’ or austere, possibly unmemorable, but that’s not so important to me as comfort and food. On the comfort side, while decently sized for café tables, the tables are barely sufficient, considering the whole purpose of Tapas is to get 3-5 plates per person; when you added in water+drinks+the table décor, we were regularly shuffling things around to fit. As a side note, the toilet was having issues both times I went. Given the weak, sputtering flush, I suspect this is a chronic problem.

Wait/Bus Service: Bus Service was good, the water was always full and they were quick to remove empty plates (no doubt due to the table size constraints). The wait service was indifferent. Not rude, but they clearly didn’t care that we were there, that our cocktails were empty, that we’d waited 30 minutes between courses with nothing to eat, no apology, and no explanation for the delay. A couple of extra cheese curls and a “I’m sorry, we had to chase down the pig” would not have been amiss. They didn’t check back after food was served to see if it was ok. All the wait staff seemed hectic and rushed—to me it took the ambiance from hip happy hour high jinks to rush hour diner. During our mid meal wait, I was hungry and asked for another dish which was never delivered (nor, fortunately, added to the bill). Frankly, I expect much better for a dinner that costs $180 for two people.

Cost: As mentioned, we spent $180 for 7 Tapas, 2 desserts, 1 cheese plate, and 4 cocktails. This wasn’t a shock to us, but for those not used to tapas dining, be aware that getting out of a Garces restaurant for $25-$35 means no drinks, 2-4 small dishes, and probably doesn’t include tax and tip.

Food: IMO, Tinto suffers in comparison to Amada, both in terms of the menu and the food. Amada’s menu is bigger, more diverse, and had more things I was interested in. Taste-wise, most of the Tinto dishes were … the word that comes to mind is workmanlike—good ingredients, nice presentation, but not outstanding.

I was with a seafood lover, while I am more of a land lubber, so the only plate we shared was the cheese mixto. This was a problem since most of my dishes came out before my dining partner’s and she was stuck watching me eat. I realize this is because we weren’t doing Tapas “correctly,” but taking into account the other pacing issues (the 30 minute wait with nothing for either of us) left me feeling like they have some kitchen organization issues.

The cheese plate was good, but not particularly exciting. The pricing is similar to Le Bec Fin and LaCroix and theirs are more interesting and personalized. The table next to us got the meat mixto and that looked mouthwatering—get that instead.

I had the Figs wrapped in Serrano ham—while tasty, the figs overwhelmed the ham, they needed to be cut in half or maybe quartered for each piece. I also wondered if fresh figs would be less overwhelming.

The fried potatoes were a mixed bag to me. The blue cheese sauce and tomato compote were delicious, the potatoes were glorified tater tots. Yummy, but not awe-inspiring. Amada’s Patatas Bravas were one of my surprise favorites, so this was a little disappointing.

The pork belly Montaditos has a really exciting description, but didn’t really have any flavor that stood out to me. The meat was well-cooked and moist and they tasted ok, but that’s about all I remember.

The Butifarra--house-made garlic sausage--was awesome. Yes, finally something I want to rave about! It was a little spicy and a little sweet and no part of it over- or underwhelmed (I was especially happy the garlic fit in with all the other flavors, rather than overwhelming). The Pedro Ximénez sauce is filled with whole lentils and perfectly complements the sausage. I would get this again in a heartbeat. However, waiting over an hour for a two pieces of sausage in what is essentially lentil stew (fancy, delicious lentil stew) is ridiculous.

My dessert-- Mato Y Miel (goat’s milk mousse, orange-olive oil caramel, orange blossom gelée) was excellent. It was light and airy, yet had a deep, pleasing flavor that I loved.

My dining partner got the marinated anchovies with melon and peppers; moules basquaise with chorizo and frites in lemon aioli; and the artichokes and pappardelle. I didn’t try the anchovies or mussels, but the spicy fries in lemon aioli were the sort of creative, awesome flavor combination I was expecting from Tinto and didn’t get in most of my dishes. I didn’t try the artichokes, but I was deeply, deeply envious, they looked and smelled delicious.

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  1. Sorry to hear you had a disappointing experience. I'm coming down to Philly in a couple of weeks and I have reservations at Tinto. I've had Basque cuisine once in my life and I loved it, so this was sort of a must-do for me. Normally I don't care about service or decor, just about food, but I don't like being ignored. A 30 minute wait between courses - ouch, that's rough. As a solo diner, I'm used to not-so-hot service (that is, unless I purposely hold off on ordering my entree until after I'm done with the app, I get the entree right on top of the app - like I'm being rushed out of there.

    For chowhounders who have been to Tinto often, is this the kind of experience I can expect? Is the seating really that uncomfortable? I have a 7:30 reservation on Monday - will it be particularly busy? I wonder if I should make an earlier reservation so that I don't have similar service problems.

    How does Amada compare to Tinto in terms of overall experience? Thanks!

    1 Reply
    1. re: Betsypaige

      If you are alone, you can sit on the banquette side, so you'll be out of traffic. Anything that needed to be cooked (like the sausage, artichokes and mussles) took forever for us and tables near us. Unfortunately, I think those are the things that have the most Basque flavor--they were also the best/most memorable dishes. [Those three and the dessert are all I can recommend eating of the ones we tried.] Cold things and sandwich/bruschetta type things all came faster. Monday might be a good night to go. This Wed. could have been unusually busy since a lot of people have Friday off for the 4th.

      Overall, though I would say I liked Amada better.

    2. Have you been to Bar Ferdinand in Northern Liberties? It's our favorite place for tapas, and it's about half the price.
      You can see the menu online. Don't miss the skewer with the fried cheese and the frozen apple foam. But there are so many terrific things there . . . .
      Casual, comfortable, and really good. No reservations.

      1 Reply
      1. re: sylviag

        Thanks for the rec. I will definitely check it out.

      2. I was feklar's friend who went to Tinto with her Wednesday night :) (thanks for the excellent write-up, better than I would have managed). Definitely agree on all points. The highlight for me was seriously those frites in lemon aioli--the sort of surprising, intensely combination of texture and flavor I never would have imagined working, but it did. The mussels they came with were good, but nothing that would scream out that they were the best I'd had in the city (not even recently as I've been on a bit of a shellfish kick.)

        The artichoke pasta was quite good, in a very rich creamy sauce that I really would have loved to ask for a little more bread to soak up and enjoy--but the busboy rushed off my plate before I could ask.

        I had one of the chocolate desserts--I forget what it was called, a very rich cake with a coffee layer and topped with an amazing little crunchy cup of gelato. I would definitely have that again as it was so insanely rich I couldn't even finish the small serving size.

        The pacing of the dishes really did throw off the experience. In contrast, we were sitting next to a couple who had both ordered the chef's tasting (and received different dishes each), and while they got 4 courses each, I believe, with dessert, we noted how smoothly that service went compared to ours. So perhaps that's the way to go at Tinto, especially if you are going with someone without the intent purpose of sharing everything and/or have different tastes in what you like to eat (seafood vs. meat, etc). Overall, I might give them another try, perhaps for lunch or brunch where I hear some good deals can be had. And/or to get those frites again. Not sure I'd rush back for a dinner meal that soon...

        24 Replies
        1. re: sockii

          Hopefully I'll have a better experience. I only have 6 dinners in Philly and this will be my last one before I leave the next day - I wouldn't want to leave on a sour note.

          Tinto seems to have service issues more than food issues- is it like that at Amada?

          1. re: Betsypaige

            We had excellent service at Tinto; no problem. And our son and daughter-in-law from out-of-town ate their twice. They liked it so much they went back.
            I think you'll be fine.

            1. re: sylviag

              Good to hear, Sylviag. Thanks! I've had my heart set on Tinto since I began planning my trip......I can't wait, frankly

              1. re: Betsypaige

                I've always loved Tinto Betsy! It is possibly my favorite Garces restaurant (though I have yet to try Chifa). I actually ate there this past Wednesday for lunch and had a great visit. It wasn't very busy, and was lunch, so certainly not the same conditions as a busy dinner, but I would encourage you to retain your excitement!

                btw... if they have the gazpacho on the menu, it is definitely worth ordering, the texture is out of this world...


                1. re: LPhila

                  LPhila, thanks! I intend to keep the reservation - I just really want to try it for one, and for another, no restaurant that I know has ever gotten 100% raves. People have different tastes and experiences.......I love gazpacho, so if it's on the menu, I will order it. Yum!

            2. re: Betsypaige

              Betsy, do consider Apamate, too. They're BYOB, which could be annoying for a solo diner, and not so high-end, but I can assure you they would never ignore or talk down to a woman client. I adore the food & the total experience.

              1620 South St.
              P: 215.790.1620 (no res)

              I still haven't been to Tinto, but I'm looking forward to trying it anyhow. I liked Amada, but Apamate is definitely my fave.

              1. re: Mawrter

                Hi Mawrter

                I've read a lot about Apamate on this board and it got great reviews. I'm not inclined to cancel my reservation at Tinto, but if I do.....I will definitely replace it with Apamate. I love Basque cuisine (just had it once, but it made a real impression on me)......

              2. re: Betsypaige

                We dined at Tinto once. We didn't have the service problems but did find it uncomfortable. The food while fine wasn't memorable enough for a second visit. It's always tough for us to go anywhere but Bar Ferdinand for Basque cuisine.

                Bar Ferdinand is perfect for solo dining. You can dine at the bar which is always lively or at the communal table if you don't want a table by yourself.

                1. re: joluvscards

                  You mean uncomfortable in terms of seating? Are all the tables those high bar tables .......and small, to boot?

                  I wanted to definitely try a Garces restaurant while I am in Philly - right now besides Tinto, I plan to go to Distrito for lunch the day I leave (by the way, will there be a problem bringing my luggage (just one piece, on wheels) into the restaurant?.

                  I guess I don't have to be married to Tinto as long as I'm going to Distrito. I don't seem to read about these issues with Amada, but Amada isn't Basque, so if I cancel at Tinto, I probably wouldn't do so in favor of Amada.

                  What's the difference between Bar Ferdinand and Apamate? Are they Basque? That's really what I'm looking for. They both get terrific reviews. Oh, the communal table sounds like a terrific option for me .....


                  1. re: Betsypaige

                    As I recall the tables were very small for two. If you want to try a Garces restaurant go to Distrito. While the decor is really wild and the menu is fun the food is seriously brilliant.

                    We like both Bar Ferdinand and Apamate. IMHO BF is a big step up in atmosphere and a medium step up in food. Apamate is more of a neighborhood place and BF is more happening. They are both a drive for us and we have been to Apamate twice and BF about a dozen times. Check out both menus. On Mondays BF has half price wines by the bottle.

                    1. re: joluvscards

                      I was going to Distrito for dinner, but I changed that so I could try Bibou. for dinner.Now, I'm going to Distrito for lunch. Am I missing something by having lunch instead of dinner there? Either way, I'm looking forward to it - it looks like a fun place and the food sounds delish!

                      Thanks for the help, Jo. I'm not sure if I will change my reservations, but I will look at both menus just in case........This is what happens when I have too much time on my hands before a vacation, lol.

                      1. re: Betsypaige

                        I've only been to Distrito for dinner, but I'm sure it will be fine for lunch, and well worth any slight sacrifice for dinner at Bibou.

                        As for Tinto, I'd keep your reservation. None of the other tapas places has the Basque influence that Tinto does (though it is mostly influence, not a lot of purely Basque dishes). In spite of the negatives posted here, many people love Tinto and, since you've been so set on it, you should check it out for yourself.

                        1. re: Hungryin theBurbs

                          Thanks! I'm inclined to keep my reservation at Tinto, but I wonder if I should choose to take advantage of Philly's many BYOB Italians instead. Because I eat a lot of Italian at home, I never go to Italian restaurants on vacation, but it might be nice to have an experience like Osteria (already have reservations) and also like, say a Radicchio. It's just something I'm thinking about....Hmm, planning my restaurant itinerary is a very serious endeavor. Think Radicchio is worth it? If so,. they don't take reservations, correct? Thanks!

                          1. re: Betsypaige

                            I'd say sampling at least one of Philly's great BYOBs is a must on a visit. I haven't been to Radicchio myself, but my vote would be for Melograno if you wanted to stick to Italian BYOB. Although there are a number of others I love as well, Melograno is the one that really reminds me of dining in Italy with the freshness and delicate preparation of the food.

                            Otherwise, Matyson would be my pick for my favorite BYOB overall in the city. The weekday tasting menu is a great experience and deal, and I've always enjoyed the regular menu items as well.

                            1. re: sockii

                              I have a reservation at Matyson on my first night in and I can't wait - I think that's going to be one of my favorites. Melograno has definitely gotten good reviews. I'm sort of torn. I do love Basque cusine, but I try to take advantage of my destination's strengths.......and BYOs (and Philly seems to have lots of Italian BYOs) are Philly's. I think I may end up cancelling Tinto and saving it for my next trip down (thank goodness Philly is a short train ride away).

                              I usually eat only pasta or risotto at an Italian restaurant because I live and breathe carbs. How's the pasta at Melograno? Also, it looks like it's a big, bustling place - not cozy and personable. I'm not sure it really matters to me except - is it too close to Osteria in style?


                              1. re: Betsypaige

                                If you are heading in the BYO direction, I 'd encourage you to check out Kanella, which is cypriot/greek cuisine and truly excellent. The italian byobs are great, but since you already have Osteria, it might be nice to have more variety.

                                1. re: Hungryin theBurbs

                                  Yep, I had done research on Kanella when I first started doing my research because it got such good reviews. I do have reservations at Zahav -not sure how similar Israeli and Cypriot cuisine are?

                                  1. re: Betsypaige

                                    Zahav and Kanella are quite different, I think, both in food and atmosphere. I guess they have similar flavor profiles, but the actual dishes are very different.

                                    1. re: Hungryin theBurbs

                                      Thanks! I love Greek cuisine, but I'm more inclined to American/European, so I guess my decision comes down to Tinto or another byob - tough choice, lol

                                2. re: Betsypaige

                                  Melograno is not that big (it's bigger in its new location than its old one, but still not huge). And if cozy and personable are a big deal in your choices, I'm not sure how Tinto will work out -- it's only cozy in the sense of being as tightly packed as possible, and not all that personable.

                                  The thing to remember is most all of the BYOBs in Philly are fairly tightly packed and emphasize food over elaborate decor and spaciousness. Turning over tables is a must to succeed when you're not bringing in revenue through liquor sales. I'd pick Matyson over Melograno for a unique experience, definitely, but both are excellent. I haven't been to Osteria yet so I really can't compare, but I'd definitely put Melograno near or at the top of the Philly BYOBs I've dined at.

                                  1. re: sockii

                                    I'm actually not picky about where I eat - as long as the food is good. I have 3 BYOs on my itinerary: Matyson, Little Fish and Bibou. I think I've done a decent job of getting a good taste of Philly - I also have reservations at Osteria, Zahav and Tinto.

                                    I only question Tinto because I wonder how a solo diner will be received. I don't necessarily need cozy - actually, it might be fun to eat in a hip sort of place. However, I don't like being rushed. I'm a bit concerned about the service issues (I realize that people have different opinions about food ) mainly . Also, are there any regular tables (instead of the bar tables)? It sounds rather uncomfortable. I'm inclined to keep the reservation as long the answers to these questions are not overly negative.


                          2. re: Betsypaige

                            I went there for lunch and was very disappointed. The menu is very limited. The food was good, just nothing to rave about. My husband has been there on business a couple of times and loved it. My good friend loves it too. I hope you have a better experience than I did.

                        2. re: Betsypaige

                          Physically the seating was comfortable, it was more feeling like I was in the middle of traffic that I didn't like. They put tables a close as legally possiblie. Anyways, I do hope you enjoy yourself. We may have just been there on a bad night.

                          1. re: feklar42

                            Oops, I asked a seating question before I read your response. I think I'll keep the reservation and just go with the flow. Sometimes I tend to get to worried about whether everyone loves a restaurant - that's simply not possible.

                            I'll report back on Tinto,e soon as I return - everyone has been such a help and very patient with my many questions. I take food very seriously, as you can see, lol

                  2. feklar, I also was disappointed with my dinner at Tinto. I felt it was way too expensive, though some of the things I had were really good, overall I did not end up feeling like I had good value for the dollars spent. I've been to Tinto for lunch, and lunch is a better value. As far as the food, I did have the basque mussels/frites and they were great. But, if not for the frites, I would have been so hungry!! I'd recommend people to order the frites as a side, they are so good, and filling (as compared to many of the tapas which just don't fill you up)

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: rocknroll52

                      Maybe I'll try it for lunch in a few months.