Tapas, with a Side of Coachella, at Tinto in Palm Springs

April 21, 2014

PALM SPRINGS, CA – It’s become a tradition of mine to come out to the Palm Springs area on one of the two weekends of the annual Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, known to adherents as simply “Coachella.” I don’t actually buy a ticket to the festival−the USD 400+ price tag for spending two days in the punishing desert sun amid the drug-addled twenty-something masses never quite seemed worth it. But the Palm Springs area is at its prettiest during April, and the creative energy of the festival infuses the town with the vibrancy of eclectic fashion, music, and art.

So, the question always becomes, “How to do a grown-up Coachella weekend?” One of the answers I found this year is fireside tapas at Tinto in The Saguaro hotel. The Saguaro is a hipper-than-thou establishment that hits all the right notes of buzzing bars, a hot pool, and quirky art installations to attract a spirited Coachella crowd (and a slightly more sophisticated one than, say, the low-budget spring breakers at the Motel 6 down the road).

Onsite restaurant Tinto is an import from Philadelphia, courtesy of Iron Chef Jose Garces. It’s modeled after the intimate pinxto bars in Spain’s Basque region which pair delicate, flavorful small plates like montaditos (crostini), bocadillos (finger sandwiches), and brochettes (skewers) with cider, sangria, and wine. The menu, like Basque country, straddles the traditions of both Spain and France.

The restaurant is designed to exploit warm desert nights with French doors flung open to the enchanting terrace. The candlelit interior has plenty of nooks behind peek-a-boo wooden latticework, but the place to be is on the patio. My friend and I took a seat on a comfy upholstered bench right by a flickering fireplace. We were surrounded by tables of funkily dressed Coachella-looking types who preferred haute cuisine to festival food trucks.

And the food…oh the food! My friend, who is a vegetarian, delighted in a Spanish tortilla and crispy fried artichokes served with Meyer lemon cream and black truffle. I went the more meaty route and ordered juicy chicken skewers, which were artistically presented like little “sundaes,” with each skewer buried in its own individual glass cup filled with garbanzo bean puree and chicken jus.

The highlight for me was the decadent bacon wrapped dates, made from local Coachella dates stuffed with almonds and accented with roasted pearl onions and blue cheese fondue. From now on, every time someone says “Coachella,” I’ll be thinking about these dates, not the music festival!

Friendly service and a relaxed attitude (we didn’t feel rushed in the slightest) allowed us to linger over bites and wine, enjoying the flicker of the flames and the choice people-watching all around. In fact, Tinto so endeared us to The Saguaro that we decided to check out their daytime Coachella-affiliated pool party the next day. It was definitely a dip into the wilder strain of festival life, complete with men dressed as mermaids, women pairing bikinis with combat boots, and dazed-and-confused clusters of friends floating by on massive rafts. Sometimes it’s fun to regress to younger times to appreciate grown-up pleasures even more!

The Saguaro
1800 E. Palm Canyon Dr.
Palm Springs, CA
(1) 760-322-1900

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