On a trip to Philadelphia earlier this month, I encountered meatballs on almost every menu I perused. The splendid orbs pictured here were at Tinto, chef Jose Garces’ celebration of pintxos, the Basque version of tapas (pronounced Peen-choes).
Coarsely ground and artfully spiced, sauced with piperade, (the spunky Basque menage-a-trois of onion, bell pepper and tomato), and snuggled into a clay pot along with one perfectly poached egg for dunking, this meatball experience was deliriously delicious.
So delicious, in fact, that I broke down and ordered a second dish after our group of four had polished off a procession of 11 plates including a satiny big-eye tuna tartare bocadillo with chorizo aioli; lamb chops with artichoke puree and Seville oranges; shrimp brochettes with espelette chile; and some of the crispiest patatas (shaped like marshmallows and served with tomato compote and blue cheese cream for dipping) that I’ve ever tasted.
Tinto, named for the colloquial reference to the red wines of Northern Spain, is one of the half-dozen Philadelphia eateries by Garces, who won the James Beard Award for Best Chef Mid-Atlantic in 2009. His first restaurant, Amada, was opened in 2005. I loved the “small plates” at that restaurant, too, especially the suckling pig bocadillo, and the Spanish flatbread with grilled shrimp, chorizo and garbanzo bean puree. Both restaurants offer extensive lists of interesting, lesser-known wines, by glass and bottle.