Sangria and Serrano
Some cuisines are just sexy. Spanish food definitely falls into that category. Big, luscious red wines, lots of shellfish and soft spices all over the food. Tintos Spanish Restaurant & Wine Bar is just that, sexy. At an early lunch with a friend, I'm immediately turned on by the ambience. The dining room is covered in lush reds and warm wood. The walls are filled with wine bottles and bulls. The speakers are playing romantic tunes from Spain, and suddenly I am in the mood for sangria.
We order the tortilla con jamon Serrano. In Spain, a tortilla is a frittata with potato and egg. It's a good way to start off an early lunch, especially with sangria. The tortilla comes with romesco, a sauce made with nuts, olive oil and red peppers. We order a few more tapas to soak up the sangria. I love this sweet and fruity drink — it's like fruit punch with red wine and liqueur.
The patatas bravas are thick-cut potatoes fried in olive oil and served with a simple tomato sauce. On our server's recommendation, we also get the empanadas. And we round out our "Spanish breakfast" with christorra Basque, a sweet, chorizo-like sausage from the Basque region that isn't spicy-hot but has a lot of aromatic spices in it, like cinnamon and paprika.
Everything on the table — eggs, sausage, potatoes, sangria — is well executed. The tortilla is delicious, and the romesco sauce flavorful and a perfect match with the lightness of the egg dish. The empanadas are light and flaky and some of the best I have had in recent memory. The sausages are a new favorite, and the patatas bravas are a staple when eating tapas — they fill you up. The whole point of tapas is to have something to nibble on while you're drinking wine or sherry and enjoying a good conversation, and that's what we're doing.
It's one of those meals that's close to being perfect but needs something sweet to finish it off. Our server recommends the arroz con leche. "It has a cult following," he says. I think if you have ever been to Spain and had this dessert, you might be part of that cult. I am not a big fan of rice pudding, and that is what Tintos's arroz con leche is — rice pudding.
I visit Tintos late in the afternoon, meet up with a friend and begin ordering an arsenal of tapas and some Spanish beers. Estrella Damm Lager pairs nicely with the fritura de mariscos, a long plate filled with lightly fried calamari, shrimp and cod. It comes with a lime habanero aioli. I don't detect any heat in the sauce, but I really like the light breading on the seafood. Everything is really crispy and not soaked with oil.
Even better are the boquerones fritos. These are usually little white anchovies fried whole, but the ones we're served are more like smelts, I think. Nothing wrong with that — they are a lot easier to get than fresh anchovies, especially white anchovies. The crispy little fish come with lemon aioli and are one of the better tapas I've tried at Tintos. When you bite into them, you can feel the bones crunch in your mouth. They go really well with the beer.
The mejillones Barcelona, mussels cooked in saffron with a garlic and tomato broth, are chewy and dry. I would venture to say that the kitchen par-cooked them till they opened and then cooled them down and reheated them to order so they're quicker and easier to prepare. Or someone just flat out overcooked the mollusks to death. That is sad, because those poor mussels only had one life to give and most don't even make it into anybody's mouth.
I'm hoping the pimientos del piquillo recommended by our server will get me back in the mood. They're nothing special, just goat cheese and canned Spanish peppers.
There are so many tapas on the menu at Tintos, you could come here every day for a month and still not eat them all. Running out of room on our table, we order the filete de carpaccio. When the meat comes to the table, I know something is wrong. Instead of being bright red with thin white lines of fat weaving through the meat, making that marbled pattern so important to beef, the flattened, thin portion of carpaccio is kinda gray. I take one bite, finish my beer and roll out.
I stop into Tintos an hour before closing on a weekday to sit at the bar, drink an affordable bottle of wine and eat a pan of paella — basically, what I consider a perfect way to spend an evening. I look over the wine menu for a few minutes. It has plenty of Chilean and Argentinean wines, some by the glass, and a large list of Spanish wines. I start with the $11 gambas al ajillo and a $13 glass of Conde De Valdemar Spanish Rioja. The shrimp are chewy and garlicky, and the glass of wine is excellent.
Trying to keep it on the cheap, I opt for a bottle of Chilean Apaltagua Pinot Noir at $23. An order of Valencia paella for one is $18, bringing my grand total to $70. That ain't cheap for one person, but then again, it's a lot of wine.
You can judge a Spanish restaurant by its paella. Tintos's is interesting. There is some debate as to whether the saffron rice should be crunchy on the bottom of the pan; some would even say this is the best part of the dish. Others are of the opinion that the rice should not be crunchy, which is how it comes out at Tintos. I like it both ways.
But there's little debate about this: The seafood, sausage and chicken should be cooked in the rice to give it more flavor. Here it seems to be neatly arranged on top. I suspect that in the kitchen at Tintos, everything is cooked separately ahead of time and put together to order. Turnoff! The seafood in my paella is chewy, and I feel rejected by my sexy Spanish dish. I still have my bottle of wine to soothe me, though.
As with any fling, the start of my dalliance with Tintos was the most exciting part, because everything was new. The end is dull, and all I can do is try to think of a way to leave without hurting anyone's feelings. I sneak out the back door while no one is looking. Maybe I will come back if I am lonely.
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