By Judith Salkin
I’ve never been to Spain’s Costa del Sol to bask in the Mediterranean sun that shines along the Gold Coast or to indulge in the regional foods that has over the centuries combined the influences of the region’s history.
From the fresh seafood of the coast to the simple shepherd fare of the Basque people who inhabit the Pyrenees Mountains, along with the spices brought to Spain by the Moors who conquered Spain more than 1,200 years ago and the cooking techniques of the French, there is a very rich history for local chefs to draw on.
After years of hearing about this incredible blending of flavors and influences, I finally got the chance to try the food when Tinto opened at the Saguaro Palm Springs a couple of years ago.
I have to admit, I fell in love.
Tinto, a colloquial expression used to describe the red wine served in typical pintxos bars (tapas in other parts of Spain) found throughout Northern Spain. The restaurant is one of “Iron Chef” Jose Garces’ 15 restaurants where the Ecuadorian-born chef presents his vision of Latin cuisine.
When you enter Tinto, off the lobby at the Saguaro, you’ll find a cool (in every sense of the word), dark, comfortable cave-like space where the emphasis is definitely on the food, wine and service.
The dining areas are defined by open walls built of 2 x 2s, with tables and booths that seat up to six lit with cool pendant lights that complete the basement/industrial feel of the space.
I’ve been to the restaurant about half-a-dozen times since Tinto has been open and in all honesty never had a bad experience. In fact it’s been quite the opposite. On two occasions servers and management have been quick to rectify “problems.” The first time when the suggested wine pairings didn’t meet our tastes and the second, during Restaurant Week, when there was a mix-up in serving stations causing us to wait about 10 minutes and our drinks were comped by the manager.
It’s the food that keeps me coming back to Tinto.
Like a tapas, pintxos are small plates that are meant to be shared. Approximately two dishes per course, per person, is usually more than enough to you up. Each plate is a like a little gem.
I like to start with a cheese plate ($16) chef’s choice, along with a salad, almonds or olives, and when it’s available the house gazpacho or either the chicken or lamb brochettes for the appetizer course.
The cheeses (Manchego, La Peral, Mahon or Boucheron) are served with quince jam and a light honey sauce drizzled on the plate. A cheese plate combined with a mixed charcuterie plate ($16, again chef’s choice with either Jamon Serrano or Iberico, chirizo Pamplona or Lomo) and the peppery arugula salad could be a perfect light summer lunch.
Garces is known for his modern interpretations of traditional Latin dishes and the entrees at Tinto are prime examples of his work. The menu offers duck Montadito, a confit with Serrano ham, black cherry sauce and La Peral spread ($10) is sweet and savory, and melts beautifully on the tongue; while the chicken ($6) with a creamy garbanzo bean puree, lamb ($14) or prawn ($12) brochettes, all offer sweet/savory bites.
Entrée plates, small bites of intense flavor, offers a choice of New York Strip steak ($38), so buttery it practically falls apart on the tongue; pulpo ($12) Spanish octopus with spicy Morroccan harissa is a unique taste of the nearby sea; lamb chops ($25 or $50), have brilliant artichoke puree with sherry lamb jus that brings out the naturally sweet taste of the meat; the perfectly seared, gingery divers scallops ($18); or the Secreto Iberico, ($28), Iberico pork loin served with a sharp/sweet Salbitxada sauce.
While the menu offers sorbets as sweet end to the meal, try the Caujada ($8), a beautifully layered dessert made with sheep’s milk cheese and citrus cremas and a seasonal fruit escabeche (poached fruit reduced to a natural gel) center. The flavors are bright while the dessert itself is light in the mouth.