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  • 4 weeks later...

Tinto is now serving lunch. They've duplicated the lunch special from Amada: the "Bilbao Express" is soup or salad and a sandwich for $16.

I had the chilled white asparagus and truffle gazpacho, which was outrageously good, rich and refreshing and chilly. And the "mixto" sandwich, with serrano ham and cheese. A first-rate sandwich, but not as unexpectedly, out-of-the-ballpark, good as that soup. Yow.

It wasn't crowded at all, whether because the lunch is a new thing (I think it started this week) or just because, I don't know. But I walked in and got a seat, no problem.

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Just got back from Lunch and want to echo on Andrews comments about the Chilled White Aspargus Gazpacho- Very good and incredibly refreshing on one of our famous Northeast corridor sweatbox days. I think some cream was added, giving it some extra richness on top of what was already provided by the the truffles. What was kind of interesting though is that I ordered the Crab and Seafood Chowder. Once I saw how good the Gazpacho looked I elected to keep it, but they still seem to be working out service issues, at least at lunchtime. I was with a friend and we both ordered the Bilbao Lunch Express. We did say they could bring the items as they were ready but with a ratio of about 2.5 employees for every customer I really didn't think timing would be an issue. None the less both our soups and then our sandwiches arrived at different times, probably about 2-3 minutes apart. Not a huge issue, but just a bit suprising considering the light crowd. I got the Mixto sandwich as well and thought it was good not great. The sandwich came with a little salad(?) of olives, cornichons, small marinated cocktail like onions and thin slices of some kind of slightly spicy pepper. Overall I would say I would go back but it won't be a the top of the list.

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  • 1 month later...

My wife and I had a terribly unpleasant meal at Tinto last night. Wanted to get some feedback from this forum to hopefully avoid similar problems in the future.

After being seated, the waiter briefly explained the menu to us and pushed us rather heavily towards the tasting menu. We wanted to try the chef’s tasing, but had mixed feelings about this for one reason: my wife eats shellfish and fish but no meat. It seemed that most of the dishes on the menu had meat in them, so we were wary. We asked the waiter specifically about our concern. His response was “oh, it’s no problem, we do that modification of the tasting menu all the time”. I then told him that I liked meat and that I did not want to have a modified, meatless tasting and he said again, “it’s no problem”.

For drinks we were again waffling, between the wine pairing and a bottle. We asked the waiter for advice. The waiter said that we could “chug-a-lug” a bottle of wine, but that the wine pairing would be much nicer. We opted for the wine pairing, slightly annoyed at this response.

So, out comes the first round of plates. First an idiazabal, then a small plate of figs wrapped in prosciutto and a very large plate of sliced sausage with house egg salad. This seemed odd, but I assuaged my wife b/c with the tasting menu we had no idea how many plates/courses to expect. It was all downhill from there.

Out comes the second round of plates: mussels with chorizo and frites w/lemon aioli, pork belly bruschetta, and skewered shrimp with chorizo and cherry tomatoes. Now we’re annoyed. Without touching a thing, we wait for the waiter to appear (about 10 minutes). We remind him that my wife was supposed to be getting non-meat items. He briefly apologized, whisked away only the shrimp dish and it reappeared a couple minutes later as shrimp with cherry tomatoes (no chorizo). Then he again briefly apologized and told us the chef would “make it up to us with the next course”. At this point, we’re pretty unhappy, but willing to see how it could be “made up to us”. In the interim the waiter checks back once and tries to cut the tension by joking about the foie gras protesters that were outside earlier (not smart when the tension was centered around a non-meat eating patron).

Now the kicker. Out comes the third round of plates (which would turn out to be our main course although we were unaware at the time). This time it’s haricot vert, saltcod with a crab crepe, and sea bass with cockles. No meat at all. Then a couple of small dessert plates and the check.

On the menu the chef’s tasting is an individual option, in contrast to those occasional menu items that must be ordered by two. What we ordered, and what the waiter assured us was possible, was one chef’s tasting with meat and one chef’s tasting with only fish/shellfish. Five of our first 6 plates were meat, then our main course was meat-free. All of the items were taken from the menu. It seems pretty clear that he started off just giving us the regular chef’s tasting menu (was my wife supposed to nibble on the cheese plate for over an hour?) and then “made it up to us” by giving us two fish entrees, which is something I can’t imagine would occur if one ordered the chef’s tasting without restrictions, as I had done. Is there any conceivable way that a single diner would order the chef’s tasting and end up with two white fish for the main course, particularly one that’s supposed to be making up for a previous gaffe?

The screwed up menu basically dominated the conversations of the whole meal, taking the place of what should have been compliments on the food. Moreover, because of the vague nature of the tasting menu, we never felt it was the right time to call over a manager. There was always the promise that the next course would somehow mend the mistakes.

We eat out somewhat regularly and know how to accurately and clearly convey our concerns and desires to the waitstaff. We’ve enjoyed wonderful chef’s tastings at morimoto where substitutes for the meat courses were made for my wife. We’ve recently gone to marigold kitchen and were told by the server that it wouldn’t be a good idea to order the chef’s tasting b/c they couldn’t accommodate the no-meat request. So we didn’t, and we had an excellent meal. Was last night an aberration, or does one person in a party with dietary restrictions mean that everyone should steer clear of chef’s tastings because inevitably someone will be unhappy? I mean, it’s not like it’s studio kitchen, right? Curious to see what other people think about this.

Somehow at Tinto, they managed to make us both miserable. Not only would I not go back nor recommend it, but I will now not go back to Amada despite very good experiences there in the past. Too bad, b/c I feel like it could have been so much better than it turned out to be. Is it our fault as the customers? Both my wife and I can’t really help but blame ourselves in part for the experience even though we don’t think we did anything wrong. More than $200 is a lot to spend for both of us to leave the restaurant feeling miserable.

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that's a real bummer. i hate it when things work out so that it's not that you're afraid to speak up, but it never seems like the right time to do so, and then the meal's over and you end up pissed off. maybe a letter to management would help in some way?

we were there last night as well, and had a really nice time, including a comped appetizer when they were about 15 minutes late with our table.

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Unfortunately Jack...... :sad:

You were a victim of a not often discussed occurence in the restaurant business.

It's called "Tasting menus for high check averages".

The first rule of a tasting menu is *never* order tasting menus in a tapas restaurant.

There is ZERO point to it.

The food is small plates.

You can order whatever you want so why let them lock you into spendiing $200 for food you did not like or choose ?

Invariably what happens in these situations is you get a few actual dishes and some bullshit retail items. It's not that it is bad food but olives, cured meats and cheese with garnishes dont belong in a tasting menu, a tasting menu is about a chef's vision which requires conceptualizing and cooking something not simply passing some chorizo through a slicer or slapping some truffle honey on cheese.

Absent of that, what happens is waiters and the restaurants to some extent raise your check average with the perception of value.

I dont know if this is what happened to you nor am I accusing Tinto of deception but feel free to come to your own conclusions.

I say never order tasting menus in small plates restaurants unless it's cooked food.

I use to go to Morimoto and say "Omakase no sushi".

You will be amazed at what you get when you specify to erase the bullshit up front.

Sorry you had a bad experience though.

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V, I see your point. I guess that I always thought of a tasting menu as a reciprocal exchange between the customer and the restaurant. You agree to spend XXX amount of money up front, and so they reward you by giving you a better meal. Perhaps lower profit margin per dish, but more overall dishes. Then everyone wins and you want to come back and do it again.

As a comparison, I'm a member of the lancaster farm fresh CSA. I also walk by the LFF stand at RTM on a semi-regular basis. Now, knowing I paid all of my money in the spring, they could easily give me the bottom of the barrel produce. Instead, it seems to me like I'm getting quite a bargain compared to people shopping at RTM. Here, the reciprocity works. We're rewarded for our committment. It's kind of like frequent flier miles or Tria points or whatever else. Reward for committment.

This was my expectation at Tinto. This is what I would expect from a fine restaurant with a reputable chef. I wouldn't expect them to be suckering me into paying more to get less, as if it were an all-you-can-eat crab place where they try to load you up with fried dough before you get the crabs (or something like that). In the grand scale, I would have thought that the business practices and professionalism at Tinto would be closer in line with French Laundry than with Olive Garden. Guess maybe I was wrong.

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In the grand scale, I would have thought that the business practices and professionalism at Tinto would be closer in line with French Laundry than with Olive Garden. Guess maybe I was wrong.

No, I think that's right. There's just a lot more levels below Tinto than you seem to believe there are.

My own experience has persuaded me never to order a tasting menu on a weekend or otherwise especially busy night, unless I fully know what I should expect. Even some of my favorite places, like Vetri and the late lamented Pif, often cut some corners on those nights - mainly by assembling the "tasting menu" from dishes on the main menu, which to my mind entirely defeats the purpose. So now I just stick to off nights.

On a bit of a tangent, in the last week I have had to deal with two absolutely abysmal service experiences at places that are generally highly regarded (by myself as well, it should be said). In both cases, I thought the miscue was due primarily to the inexperience of the staffers concerned. Is this the much-bruited restaurant labor shortage finally hitting me? Have other people had similar recent upticks in bad service experiences?

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I am sorry you had a bad experience at Tinto. You should let them know your concerns so that they may rectify the problem. But it is also inaccurate to compare a restaurant like Tinto to the French Laundry. Two totally different leagues. A tasting menu and service at the Laundry is going to be far superior to that of a restaurant that serves tapas. That is not a knock on tapas restaurants, it is just a fact. Also I agree with V on the same points of ordering a tasting lately.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Just wanted to update and say that I did call to express my dissatisfaction. I was put in touch with the general manager who assured me that the manner in which Tinto typically conducts its business is nothing like what we experienced. He was the consummate professional. He listened attentively, his apologies were sincere and he offered a return visit on the house. So we're going to give it another shot at some point in the future. Since I complained earlier, I wanted to be fair and give credit where credit's due. Will update again after our next meal.

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  • 1 month later...

Tried Tinto for the first time this weekend. Outrageously good food. The cool and quiet downstairs (this was early evening) has a completely different vibe from the noisy and tightly packed upstairs. So when we go back I'll definitely be requesting a table downstairs instead of up.

Best dish: duck confit montaditos with a cherry on top... words can't express how awesome.

We considered the chef's tasting and I'd forgotten about the discussion above. Glad we went plate by plate. Ended up costing $100 for two (pre-tip) including drinks, so a little cheaper than the $55pp tasting would have been. Figs (2 orders), kobe beef, duck montaditos, potatoes w/la peral sauce, halibut, wild mushrooms, and a chestnut cake for dessert. Not a bad bite in the lot.

I've never seen a menu before that lists every single person on the staff right down to the line cooks and bussers. I like the idea.

Cooking and writing and writing about cooking at the SIMMER blog

Pop culture commentary at Intrepid Media

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  • 2 months later...

If anyone's looking for a great place to host a small party, Tinto has a very nice private room on its second floor that holds about 16 for a sit-down dinner. Due to license issues that space is presently BYOB, which worked out quite nicely for us. No charge for the room, just the food. Which was awesome as usual. The birthday girl was thrilled.

Cooking and writing and writing about cooking at the SIMMER blog

Pop culture commentary at Intrepid Media

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  • 4 weeks later...

For the soup fans out there Tinto is offering a killer good one right now as an option on their Bilbao lunch menu. Chestnut Puree with Mushroom Duck Hash and a drizzle of Truffle Oil. There are also some toasted Pistachios on top. I've gotten it twice now and have been blown away each time. The soup has a slightly sweet element which really balance everything out . My guess is Port or Brandy. However it's made, it is just the thing to warm one up on a cold day. I didn't see it on their dinner menu so I am assuming lunch is the only time you can get it.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Returned this weekend to give Tinto another chance after last the debacle last time, and we had an extremely enjoyable meal this go round.

Manager with whom I spoke previously greeted us personally on our arrival and apologized again for the mishaps of our previous visit.

Wife and I shared the mixed cheese plate and the crispy potatoes. I had the duck montaditos and the kobe w/poached egg and she had the chipirones en su tinto and the crab montadito. We shared bananas y azafran for dessert.

Won't go into details on the dishes; suffice to say that everything was outstanding. Three glasses of house grenache between the two of us and we both left feeling incredibly satisfied. Would have been a little more than half what we spent the last time we went too (had we not been treated to the meal by the manager).

We'll certainly return again.

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Went to Tinto for lunch yesterday and did the lunch special. Had the aforementioned chestnut soup, and it was outstanding. I'd definitely go back for that.

Also had the De Bonito sandwich (marinated tuna, red onion escabeche, anchovy.) It came on a delicious flaky croissant, but I felt it was just a tiny bit too oily.

Overall though, I felt the food was well worth the money. And I don't know if anyone mentioned previously, but i like the corkscrew decor in the entryway (they have a bunch of them individually mounted and framed.) Lovely!

Edited by effrontery (log)
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  • 4 weeks later...

I have a feeling that the "plan" topic with info about our recent group dinner at Tinto might vanish, so I figured I'd post these pics here.

jmchen hipped us to the fact that there's a private room upstairs that can be booked for groups of 10-16. They offer a few set menus there, served family-style, for pretty reasonable prices. Until recently it was BYOB in that room, but their liquor license now covers that space, so wines and drinks can be ordered there now.

Here's the "BILBAO" menu.

(Pics are not great quality, it was pretty dim in the room, but I hope they convey some of the thrills the dishes provided on the palate!)


Meat Mixto


Cheese Mixto


Marinated Hojiblanca Olives

Marcona Almonds


Cordero Brochettes

Lamb Loin, Eggplant, Bacon, Sherry Jus


Gambas Brochettes

Shrimp, Chorizo, Grape Tomato, Espelette Chile


Pato Montadito

Duck Confit, Black Cherry, La Peral Spread



Bacalao Al Pil Pil

Black Cod, Pil Pil Sauce, Crab Crepe



Poussin, Truffled Pochas, Shaved Carrot Escabeche


Judías Verdes

Haricot Vert, Almonds, Dates, Orange Segments, Paprika Sherry Vinaigrette


Patatas Asturianas

Crispy Potatoes, Tomato Compote, La Peral Cream



Gateaux Basques

Traditional Basque Cake, Pastry Cream, Black Cherries


I thought the food was delicious. I especially loved the duck montadito and the lamb brochettes, but I liked it all. Service was quite excellent, everyone was very friendly, well-informed, and accommodating of our quirks. We hope they'll forgive us for the glassware mishaps we had, I swear I saw one of those glasses vaporize just by someone looking at it harshly...

Big thanks to Capaneus for putting it together, and enduring no small amount of stress in the organizing. It was really great to meet some new folks, I hope we'll see you all again soon! And thanks to the Tinto folks for putting out a tasty meal, we'll be back soon, if not in that room, then just for a quick bite at the bar.

"Philadelphia’s premier soup dumpling blogger" - Foobooz


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  • 8 months later...

To read the entire review (with hyperlinks and photos), which I have excerpted below, visit the ulterior epicure.


It is strange how consensus can sometimes run counter-intuitively to one’s gut. After an informal survey of opinions among a certain subset of Philly foodie culture, Tinto seemed to be the favored one of Chef Jose Garces’s two Philadelphia small plates-concept restaurants.

Truth be told, Tinto’s menu (dominated by pintxos) seemed less interesting to me than Amada’s (see “review: subtle innovation…“). And after two meals there in late July, I concluded that this was true.

Maybe it’s due to my admitted lack of expertise in Basque cuisine. Maybe I don’t inherently take to Basque cuisine as I do with others (I doubt this is the case; I’ve had it and love it.). Maybe I was unfairly judging a book by its cover.

Or maybe, the food at Tinto is just less interesting than Amada’s.

Is the food bad? Judging by the dozen-plus plates my friends and I tried, certainly, it is not. The Alcachofas con Trufas, for example, were excellent. The baby artichoke hearts were nicely cooked, had awesome flavor and aroma (a touch of truffle oil) and demonstrated a wonderful usage of Idiazabal, which lent a bit of smokiness. Given the amount of black truffles and work involved (peeling and prepping the artichokes), I think $12 was fair, if not just a tad over-estimated.

But the large majority of what I encountered was rather forgettable.

Some of Tinto’s food felt as if Garces was forcing a resisting Basque culture into a modern, trendy mold - an awkward, if not uncomfortable proposition.

Take, for example, the Gateaux Basque ($8). They should put quotes around the name of this dessert. Or, at the very least, put quotes around the adjective “Traditional” on the menu description. This was gateau basque, nominally, in flavor, but certainly not in form. These one-bite florets were more like shortbread petits fours with pastry cream topped with meaty, syrupy cherries. Actually, that’s exactly what they were.

So maybe we chose the wrong dessert. Or, maybe I should know better than to use a dessert as an example of the uninteresting. They rarely are interesting. And sadly, they rarely are “traditional” - especially when they say they are.

Take, instead, the De Res Bocadillo, a mini sandwich with braised short rib meat, bacon, asparagus and celery root aioli ($10). Meh. The meat was soft and flavorful, but otherwise, taken as a whole, it was rather ordinary. And I’m not sure which part of the creation, other than the name, was particularly Basque.

Maybe the point, which I seem to want to overlook, is that Tinto’s goal is to make Basque food look hyper-modern? Consider the Pulpo ($9). Amassed to one corner of a tubular plate streaked with pequillo pepper “paint” were slices of octopus and potatoes frothing with bubbles. A beach of lemon “powder” stretched along the northern edge.

Beautiful? Yes. Like the Pulpo, many of Tinto’s dishes exhibited trendy landscaping.

Good? Not bad, but not great. I’ve had much better octopus for far less.

Pretty plating didn’t help the Veal with Sweetbreads either. Both, the veal and the sweetbread (what I call sweetbread schnitzel - they were flattened, breaded, and fried), were dull. The halved,lacquered fig that came as an accompaniment, however, was probably the best morsel of the evening. Sticky and sweet, the molten nugget tasted like a hundred bottles of Armagnac.

Or maybe, Tinto’s purpose is to serve as a stretch of trendy turf on which Philly’s young and hip crowd can be “scene” and, conveniently, get decent food and decent drink. To this end, Tinto is successful (especially the latter of the two elements, as demonstrated by my two thirsty Wharton Executive MBA compatriots who enjoyed a couple of pitchers of the house sangria [which seemed very similar to the “red sangria” I tasted at Amada a couple days before]). Providing a social outlet is a community service project that Tinto supports with excitement. Making money, however, is goal it pursues with vigor.

The wildly over-priced Brochette de Gambas ($6 per prawn) were just a smidgen dry and a tad flavorless. The luscious head cream, however, was a delight. And Berkshire pork belly has seen more tender and flavorful times. The matchbox-size cuts, riding on slices of baguette (“montaditos”) and topped with batons of Granny Smith apple, lacked any hint of the honey lacquering that had sounded so appealing on paper. At $4 apiece, I’ve had better bacon on bread for far less.

By comparison, the De Pato montadito was much better ($10 for 2). Bundles of duck confit wrapped in Serrano ham teamed up with sweet, macerated black cherries on a velvety swatch of funky La Peral “spread.” The contrast was terrific.

The Bacalao a la Viscaina ($16), a brick of buttery black cod on a cushion of thinly shaved Serrano ham and topped with a savory-tart olive escabeche was also tasty, although the “interpreted” combination of soft white fish with leathery ham is one that has always confounded me (click here, and here, for example).

We tried three cheeses – Leonora, a semi-aged Spanish goat cheese; La Peral, a mixed-milk blue from the Northern Spain, and Le Moulis, a firm French cow milk cheese from the Pyranees – and they were all in good shape ($12 for the Queso Mixto seleciton of three - no choice). So were the tissue-thin slips of charcuterie we sampled, served with a quenelle of bland egg salad ($15 for a “mixto” plate of four - no choice).

Whereas Amada defined and hit that “reinvented” Spanish target by being anchored to tradition with sensible interjections of innovation, Tinto seemed concerned more with style than substance and suffers from over-conceptualization.

I returned to Tinto for brunch the next morning (on my way to the airport). The reason for this decision was primarily motivated by the same reason I chose to dine at Tinto (and not at Osteria) the night before: its proximity to Capogiro (read “gelato boy gone wild…”). I walked across the street after both of my Tinto meals and finished it off with a couple of scoops of the fluffy gelato.

They ran out of lobster, so I settled for Revuelto de Cangrejo instead of Revuelto de Langosta, one of the few brunch items that is offered on their dinner menu ($12). The truffled scrambled eggs, with the simulacrum of creamy brains, were full of lump crab meat and rife with truffle oil. The eggs were served with four slices of baguette generously coated with butter flecked with black truffle. I cannot complain about the over-aggressive “truffling” of this dish, nor its buttery comfort, but two bites was all I could manage. (And this is another difference between Tinto and Amada, and, perhaps more significantly, a difference between the French-influenced Basque cuisine and the more Catalan/Iberian-minded Spanish cuisine: Tinto does not shy from using butter.)

I recalled my favorite cheese from the night before, Le Moulis, for an encore. It brought with it slices of two other amiable cheeses, Abbaye de Belloc and Idiazabel, on a dish of Queso Mixto ($15).

I also ordered a yard of Jamon de Campo, which, like the night before, was sliced tissue thin and served with egg salad ($8). But the ham, like the cheese, was great. And so were the two salads I had, which were refreshingly simple. In my limited experience, these - the least finessed and manipulated of Tinto’s cuisine (like the wonderful cigar-like Idiazabel “ crisps” served as a complimentary pre-cursor to our dinner) - were the restaurant’s strongest suit.

“Watermelon - it’s a good fruit. You eat, you drink, you wash your face.”

Italian tenor Enrico Caruso (1873-1921)


My flickr account


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  • 3 weeks later...

I call the Padre e Hijo!! Of course, I first zoomed in on the word duck. Then I had a good chuckle when I read the title.

Everything does sound really good, and it sounds like a good deal.

Edited by I_call_the_duck (log)

Karen C.

"Oh, suddenly life’s fun, suddenly there’s a reason to get up in the morning – it’s called bacon!" - Sookie St. James

Travelogue: Ten days in Tuscany

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  • 2 weeks later...
  • 1 month later...

I ate at Tinto last week and was pretty impressed. There were a few questionable items, but overall it was a very good meal. For me the best part about a Tapas-style meal is that I don't feel any obligation to order the "entrees": I'm sure they are fine, but just reading through the list at Tinto made me bored. I asked our waiter about ordering on-the-fly and he discouraged it on the basis that those entrees take time to prepare, but since I wasn't interested in them anyway we decided to wing it anyway. Our first round was some olives, a short rib sandwich, some pork belly on toast, and a crab salad. All the flavors were very good, though the sandwich was served as a single sandwich, rather than as multiple small pieces. This made it difficult to share (kinda defeats the point of tapas, no?). The crab salad tasted fine, but nothing unique or interesting about it. Next up we had the Bacalao a la Viscaina and some potatoes (small cylinders fried to a crisp and served with a tomato compote and a cream sauce): both were very good. Finally, for "dessert" we had the Moules Basquise (yes, we had mussels for dessert—you got a problem with that?). This was the best item of the evening, a really fantastic dish. The atmosphere was pleasant, the waiter was attentive (but not too attentive...), and overall the food was tasty and reasonably priced. I have not eaten at any of Garces' other places so I cannot compare, but taken alone Tinto is not bad at all.

Chris Hennes
Director of Operations

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