Why is it that so many waiters insist on memorizing orders instead of writing them down? This often leads to having to repeat oneself until the waiter gets it right or, worse, being brought the wrong food. Both occurred during a recent visit to Tapas & Tintos in midtown Miami. You'd think a meal composed of numerous tapas would make a pen and pad especially essential.
Then again, so much about this restaurant is off-kilter that the food mixup was all but forgotten by the time we got up from our chairs at meal's end. Like, for instance, the chairs themselves: The eatery's outdoor seats are hard wicker, the kind that need a cushion not only for even a modicum of comfort but also for raising you to the proper height for dining. The chairs are likewise wider than the gap between table legs, so you can't pull them in close enough.
Also, on one lunchtime visit, we arrived around 12:30 but had to wait five or ten minutes until they finished setting things up. Opening time is listed as noon.
Those sorts of oversights are surprising in light of this being T&T's second venture; the first, on Española Way in South Beach, has been around for more than a decade. The new locale occupies the former Kafa Café space on NE Second Avenue near NE 36th Street, just a short distance from formidable competing restaurants in midtown and the Design District yet far enough away to be isolated from those scenes.
The terrace, buffered from hectic nearby traffic by foliage, is a pleasant spot to sip sangria and tackle some tapas. The interior is smartly designed too: a modern 30-seat café-style room with red-cushioned chairs on a hardwood floor. Contemporary artwork hangs about, except on one wall defined by numerous glass doors and windows overlooking the patio. Both dining areas would seem warmer if more customers were occupying the seats. One possible reason for the dearth of diners: The cuisine, value, and service don't quite provide enough incentive to detour from the bustling culinary neighborhoods around the corner.
The menu of chef Fernando Andres is very similar to that at the SoBe venue. Fifty-two tapas are tendered, from cheese and charcuterie plates to a host of popular Spanish snacks.
The best of the bunch we tried was a pan of tender baby clams (almejas), which were sautéed with tomatoes, garlic, and parsley to a light, flavorful effect. Gambas al ajillo brought six very pale pink, modestly sized shrimp cooked, as is customary, with lots of garlic and a pool of olive oil. Make sure to ask for bread, because slices of warm, crusty baguette were ideal for sopping.
But if a langoustine is indeed used in the "dedos del diablo langostinos," it's impossible to tell; the prawn is wrapped in serrano ham and goat cheese, formed into a cylinder, breaded, and deep-fried. The resultant roll, served in diagonal-cut slices, tastes mostly of goat cheese; the langoustine's role is reduced to providing a textural snap to the bite. I'm not sure where the "diablo" comes from, because there was no heat.
Neither were we sure what happened to the "avocado & tomato salad" that was to be an accompaniment. Warm, undressed diced tomatoes were found beneath the shrimp roll, but no sign of avocado or salad. "It's an avocado-lime dressing that comes drizzled on top" explained the waiter, pointing to the plate (in subdued light) and the presumably invisible avocado dressing. Shriveled stalks of grilled asparagus were perhaps a substitute.
Mejillones rellenos, or "seafood-stuffed mussels breaded and deep-fried" arrived next, except we hadn't asked for them. Our server tried to convince us that we had ordered the mussels; then he looked at the menu and eventually apologized.
We had actually asked for vieras rellenas, or "stuffed scallops baked in the oven." We were expecting the scallops to be stuffed, but instead we received a trio of scallop shells with a neat breaded cap over each and a lot of filling that tasted like stuffing (bread, celery, onions). Nestled within, like the prize at the bottom of a Cracker Jack box, was a tender nub of scallop attached to the shell.
Pimientos del piquillo rellenos were also stuffed, with scrod fish bacalao, which tasted mostly of béchamel and light tomato sauce.
Chicken pinchos brightened things up via hefty cubes of moist, oregano-flecked breast meat skewered with onions and peppers. Also well executed was tortilla española, a dome of egg with moist potato-and-onion filling. It was wetter than the traditional version, but that's not a bad thing. At $5.75, it was a bargain.
Chorizo a la sidra hewed closer to the original, with slices of sausage cooked in a terra cotta casserole with olive oil and hard cider. The sausage used was "baby chorizo." I don't know at what age a chorizo develops its heat, but babies are apparently mild and not yet old enough to be smoked.
Price-wise, a special "fall dinner menu" of nine main courses, each from a different region of Spain, brings more bang-for-the-buck than tapas do. Hamburger enthusiasts can sample the traditional Burgos burger made with black sausage, or a chorizo patty inspired by Madrid. Navarra's entry is "pork mixed with peppers, topped with egg and potatoes." Translation: two thin, slightly tough fillets of meat encircled by roasted potatoes and crowned with julienned peppers and a fried egg (that was too overdone for the yolk to run).
On the plus side, it's a big plate of food for $15; by comparison, those diablo shrimp are $14.50. There are tapas available for less than $10, but many are larger-than-average bites (more like small plates) for $11 and up.
Glasses of sangria are well priced at $6; pitchers, which yield about five glasses each, are $25. Yet our waiter was so persistent in pitching us pitchers he came close to being a pest. (Service on both visits was inattentive, especially considering there were few other patrons.)
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Sadly, the sangria is not good enough to make even a glass worth ordering. The red version is weak and sweet, and the white is weak and sweeter; a small dice of apple garnishes each. Affordably priced Spanish wines, at $7 or $8 per glass and $30 to $40 per bottle, are a better bet; higher-end Riojas and such are also available.
The menu features a few paella variations (starting at $36.95 for two) and various grilled items such as tuna and swordfish steaks, filet mignon and bone-in rib eye steaks, and a parrillada of Spanish sausage, chicken, pork, and beef.
Tarta de Santiago (St. James cake) is a dense almond tart with lemon accents that originates from northern Spain. It is usually dusted with powdered sugar except for the nonpowdered shape of a cross; here it comes drizzled with honey and slivered nuts. Galician-style chocolate cake is a sweet chocolate-raspberry cake.
Like so much else at Tapas & Tintos, it was unmemorable.