Thursday, March 10, 2011


Brunch is one of those perfect meals offering everything -- savory and the sweet, breakfast and lunch, fruit juice and drinks.  A great restaurant doesn't make you choose, but bundles everything into manageable, appetizing selections.  Tinto does exactly that, and has been doing it for years.  With its great brunch package - a $25 fixed price menu of appetizer, entree and dessert - it also throws in some of (Iron) Chef Jose Garces's plot twists that transform average brunch food into something amazing.  The only downside?  You will crave the maple grits.  For a long time.

Like many good meals, this one started with the perfect drink - an Iraty, consisting of muddled lemon, aperol and bourbon fizz.  Aperol is a lighter, sweeter Campari and a nice pair with the bourbon flavor.  The drink menu also offers interesting twists on a Bloody Mary (with celery vodka and chorizo) and a Mimosa (blood orange and gran torres in cava). 

The appetizer selection presents some tough choices -- with tapas standards like the mixed cheese plate or serrano ham, or the tortilla espanola.  Somehow, I always end up with the cured salmon plate, the highlight of which is the chive cream.  I don't know how they create this lighter-than-air shmear, but it's flavorful and perfect without being heavy.
Yes, that's old school egg salad with cornichons to top your bialy there.  The egg salad was a bit standard, but I got a kick of the nod to the traditional brunch offering.

Entrees get trickier.  Whether to get the Huevos Benedictos with truffle hollandaise on brioche toast with serrano, or the Padre de Hijo, crispy duck confit, tinto hash and duck egg, is the type of highly difficult problem I love to tackle.  Again, I find myself opting for my standby - Revuelto de Hongas, wild mushrooms, goat cheese espuma, and truffle butter.  Yup, that's truffle butter on my toast and goat cheese foam on my eggs.  It's tempting to ask for seconds. 

But the secret happiness here are the maple grits.  I know what you're thinking -- insipidly sweet, right?  Wrong.  They walk the perfect balance, much like brunch, of a savory flavor of cheese against a sweet but simple topping of maple syrup (think when you were a kid, or yesterday, making sure your sausage had syrup on it).  Sublime.
The only thing holding you back from devouring these quickly is knowing you still have dessert coming.  Tinto offers a "brulee of grapefruit" or Gateaux Basque, a cake with pastry cream and black cherries.  Eschewing anything vaguely healthy here, I opted for the cake.  While not the highlight of meal, it offered a restrained sweetness I appreciate.
Unlike some restaurants offering lavish brunch buffets at high prices, Tinto manages to strike the balance of decadence and affordability, with interesting twists on brunch favorites.  Most importantly, though, get the grits.

Tinto is located at 20th and Sansom Streets, Philadelphia, Pa.  

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