By Rick Riozza

There are times when a wine & food writer simply reports on the food & wine they’re covering; and then there are times when the night’s culinary dining experience is so extraordinary, that we have a duty to tell everyone we can—and we seem really cool in doing so, because it is a welcomed truth!

And the imagination swirls when arriving at the showy rainbow colored Saguaro Hotel on East Palm Canyon Drive in Palm Springs and who would have thunk that sitting nestled inside is Tinto, an elegant restaurant with an ambiance of old world charm and a design of Spanish chic. A stylish but casual venue for certain with a very friendly staff—none of that aloof attitude going on.

Although the weather was perfect to sit outside on the patio by the fire-pit, we preferred the romantic setting inside where the demure lighting met with the live soft background serenades of the bar’s gifted Flamenco player.

So how’s your Spanish? And before I lose some readers by talking about Tapas—nothing to fear, they’re simply smaller platters of delectables–the Spanish-Basque style of cuisine at Tinto as stunningly impressive. The meals are remarkable; the level of food quality and culinary excellence makes it one of the top restaurants in the valley.

We were greeted with Tinto’s signature Sangria (“tinto” in fact is a colloquial expression used to describe the red wine served in typical wine bars in Basque country) made up of red wine, apple brandy, spiced syrup, along with fresh fruit juice—Blood oranges and lemon-lime. Very refreshing and immediately set the mood

Fortunately, Executive Chef Jon Tice came by the table and summarily described his focused food ethic. “We utilize the highest quality of farm and ocean sustainable products possible. And as the result of our attention to detail, when our patrons are delighted with the meals, of course we too, are elated to be serving them.”

For starters, I recommend the Marinated Mixed Olives and the Smoked Marcona Almonds in Olive oil and Sea Salt to accompany the entire meal. These will pair wonderfully with your other tapas and with the array of wine—plus I couldn’t keep my bread out of the marinade.

Talk about attention to detail, each individual tapas plate was a gustatory work of art. And since the plates are meant to be shared at the table, every delivery became the moment’s center of attention. The result is a lot of entertained and happy tables.

Honestly, Tinto captures that cheerfulness of the tapas bars and restaurants in Spain! Not as clamorous of course, but every table was really appreciating the cuisine both as to the type of meals presented and the exquisite manner in its preparation—not too many places in our desert can claim that.

The menu consists of “Cold” and “Hot” Tapas. Besides the olives and almonds—just to mention a few dishes, there are cold plates of Jamón Ibérico—cured acorn fed Spanish Ham, most flavorful & thinly sliced that melts in your mouth; Escalivada—a smoky mince of fire-roasted eggplant, sweet Piquillo peppers, tomato, pine nut toast, and goat cheese; a chilled bean salad with the tastiest fava and wax beans in town prepared with Ventresca tuna, toasted Hazelnut, Quail egg in a buttermilk lemon Vinaigrette; and Crab Montadito—Blue Crab, Espelette Chile, and Avocado.

Hot tapas included Fried Pezzini Farms Artichokes with Meyer lemon cream and black Truffle; Flash-Fried Padrón peppers; Both Chicken and Lamb Brochette, a Jidori chicken, garbanzo purée, and truffle jus, the lamb loin with eggplant, bacon, and Sherry jus; Spanish Chorizo with rice; Spanish Octopus—which was deliciously briny,with potato confit smoked paprika and lemon; Dayboat Scallops with bacon, polenta and apple cider glaze; and check out the Coachella Dates wrapped in bacon like a modern rumaki.

Certainly large plates are served such as Wagyu Culotte Steak with Roasted Fingerlings, Idiazábal cheese cream and membrillo; Roast Suckling Lamb with Chickpea tomato stew and Bloomsdale Spinach; Merluza—Spanish Sea Bass, that was prepared brilliantly along with Cockles and Salsa Verde; and the Santa Barbara Spot Prawns were spot-on—fresh, plump, moist and sweet with the treat of tantalizing roe.

For first timers, I’d recommend the Chef’s Tasting Menu at either $45 or $65 per person. And the wine pairing, for an additional $30 for four outstanding glasses of white and red Spanish wine.

The staff is Spanish wine savvy and go out of their way to pronounce and describe their great selection of wines by the glass or bottle. For a light-bodied and low alcohol tasty white wine, go ahead and ask for a Txakolina that is comfortably pronounced “CHOC-oh-leenah”. Easy enough to say and enjoy all night long with flavors of green apples, citrus, flowers, lemon-lime, minerals and sea breeze.

For a red wine, currently available but not on their list, ask for the Los Dos [Lohs-Dohs], a blend of Grenache and Syrah that comes off immediately aromatic, full and friendly on the palate with cherries and blackberries, and finishes with a refined length.

An impressive evening and dining to say the least—a gem in the desert. Muchísimas gracias to Manager Matt and our servers Scott, Brook, and Micheal and to Chef Jon.

Tinto Restaurant 1800 E. Palm Canyon Dr. Palm Springs 760.322.1900

Rick is the desert’s sommelier-about-town conducting & entertaining at various wine events and tastings. Contact