Tinto Got Bigger … and So Did My Stomach

My palate and I were treated to a memorable dining experience last week that left me “ooh-ing” and “ah-ing,” and wondering how the heck Jose Garces keeps it all wrapped up so tightly. The newly expanded restaurant is more handsome than ever. Polished, yet comfortable, with European flair and a welcoming vibe. Garces is simply one of the nicest chefs I have ever met. He always has a smile on his face, makes every conversation feel personalized, and exudes appreciation of his patrons. He conquered renovations and the opening of a new restaurant, Mercat a la Planxa, serving classic Catalan tapas and grilled-to-order (a la planxa) seafood and steaks from an open kitchen.

If you haven’t been, Tinto (114 S. 20th St., Philadelphia) features Basque cuisine served as small plates (pintxos) and paired with Spanish and French wines. Initially, Tinto had an off-putting reservation policy that deemed it mandatory to reserve a seat at the bar. This was quickly sidelined after numerous customers vocalized complaints. However, Garces and his staff were still left with the problem of accommodating Tinto’s fans. Plans for an addition were put into motion shortly after the restaurant opened, and now there are three public dining rooms, instead of two, and a second floor space for private dining.

The new space fits in seamlessly, adding 40 seats and additional character to the already warm and woodsy feel. The new dining room expands on existing décor: simple, vertical and geometric wine racks; bead board; exposed brick; chocolate- and tan-hued settees; walnut chairs; rustic-chic blackened metal sconces and hanging drum lights; and patterned, tile-topped tables with blackened metal pedestals.

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Our featured menu for that night began with a savory combination of nibbles. The citrus-y marinated hojiblancas olives and salty Marcona almonds were positively addicting. My favorite dish was the hongos a la plantxa, a salacious combination of hearty wild mushrooms that were cut into nice-sized pieces to retain their meatiness; roasted potatoes, shallots and parsley—which, I’m just going to go ahead and compare to crack. (I’ve never tried crack, but after hearing about its hold on those who have, I can’t see an argument with this description.)

A forkful of Garces’ juicy, cerise-colored rack of lamb just might have the power to turn non-diehard vegetarians “bi,” and the moules Basquaise—tender, petite mussels and lively chorizo in a sauce Basquaise (a fresh, tomato-based sauce with a variety of embellishments, from pimentos to bell peppers, wine, onion and whatever a chef might fancy) served with frites and a creamy lemon aioli—was a fantastic twist on this Belgian classic … Oh wait, I was supposed to be talking about the expansion … of the restaurant, not my waist.

As you can see, this post barely scratches the surface of Garces and Chef de Cuisine Dave Conn’s magical powers. Which is why you have to stop what you’re doing and call (215) 665-9250 (or go to tintorestaurant.com) to nab the next available table.

Vintage meets vinyl is on everyone’s lips, including mine. Cracked open a bottle of the much-hyped and tie-dye-labeled Pierreno Grigio this weekend—a light, refreshing take on this warm-weather favorite. The soon-to-be-released 2006 Pinot Grigio is the progeny of Chaddsford Winery and WMMR deejay Pierre Robert, who both celebrated their 25th anniversaries last year. The wine’s paler-than-straw color wasn’t exactly engaging to the eye, but the light, citrus-y nose was pleasant. When cold, it drank like a Pinot, but as it warmed, it took on chard flavors, though nuttier rather than oak-y. When first opened, there was an initial hit of acidity, and the finish was a little rough, but it smoothed out. Ultimately, it was refreshing and inviting. In general, I don’t favor Pinot grigio, but in the middle of our sweltering summers, I can see this being a nice compliment to lightly seasoned, grilled seafood and poultry dishes, or salads.

The official winery release is April 19, just in time for you to stock up for Cinco de Mayo, Memorial Weekend, the Devon Horse Show and Radnor Races, and any other light sipping occasion ahead of you.

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Chaddsford Winery, (610) 268-2519, chaddsford.com

Show Some Skin
If you want to look your best this summer—the season of skin, skin and more skin—you won’t want to miss out on USA Weekend and Better Homes and Gardens food columnist and best-selling cookbook author Pam Anderson’s visit to Viking Culinary School, where she will share recipes from her new book, The Perfect Recipe for Losing Weight and Eating Great.

This motivational demonstration will highlight Anderson’s personal weight struggles and some of her favorite diet survival recipes. Each meal of the day will be covered, and rabbit food is not on the menu. Here’s a sneak peek:

Breakfast: Quick Open-Faced Omelet with Spinach, Feta and Sun-Dried Tomatoes
Lunch: Asian Chicken Noodle Soup
Tea Time: Simple Apricot Pistachio Bars
Pre-dinner Nibble: Goat Cheese-Topped Wine Biscuits with Rosemary and Cracked Black Pepper
Dinner: Fresh Tomato Flatbread Pizza with Arugula and Prosciutto
Dessert: Double Chocolate Tartlets

Wednesday, April 30, 6:30-9 p.m. Reservations are limited. Viking Culinary Center, Suite 100, One Town Place, Bryn Mawr. (610) 526-9020, vikingcookingschool.com.

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From One BP to Another
Brasserie Perrier Chef de Cuisine Daniel Marcantuno is bowing out of the Perrier Empire this Friday (April 4), trading a lengthy commute from western Chester County for a roll-out-of-bed-and-you’re-there gig at Brandywine Prime in Chadds Ford. Marcantuno has been at BP since 1999.

Our Best of the Main Line & Western Suburbs Party is July 25!