Palm Springs is known for many things, including Midcentury Modern architecture, desert spas, golfing, the aerial tramway, and being a Hollywood refuge. However, in my scattered visits over the years, food could hardly be called a priority. However, that may finally be changing with the arrival of chefs like Jose Garces, who’s already cultivated success in multiple markets before simultaneously opening >Tinto and Mexican cantina-themed El Jefe.
Garces is a protégée of Douglas Rodriguez. He hails from Chicago, moved to New York, and later relocated to Philly, where he partnered with restaurateur Steven Starr. He already operated restaurants in Philadelphia and Chicago when he opened an eatery at the first Saguaro hotel in Scottsdale last November. He promptly joined Joie de Vivre at another cactus-inspired Saguaro in Palm Springs.
The property on an increasingly stylish side of Palm Springs (i.e. the nearby Ace Hotel) opened in 1977 as a Ramada and switched to Holiday Inn before switching to The Saguaro. The designer based the hotel’s color scheme on 14 desert flowers, and metal work mirrors angles found in surrounding mountains. Tinto’s interior features a wood bar, framed bottle openers and corkscrews on walls, and wooden wine racks that double as wall dividers.
Prawn Brochette ($12) was satisfying, with clear Spanish influences, featuring plump shrimp plated with chorizo, grape tomatoes, aioli dabs, and a modestly spicy espelette pepper sprinkling. Apparently Chef Garces doesn’t see the people of Palm Springs as dainty, since he still provides them with the option to suck the juicy goodness from shrimp heads.
Since we were on a desert retreat, we ordered a glass of the restaurant’s namesake wine, Tinta de Toro ($12) a 2012 bottling from Bodegas Rejadorada in Spain’s Toro D.O.
Sugar-lined donuts sounded particularly fun, especially since they joined locally grown dates, which appeared as jam and olive oil-drizzled ice cream. Acacia honey for dipping should have completed the sweet puzzle, but the bunuelos were so undercooked that it was alarming. Granted, Tinto had only been open for a matter of days, but sticky uncooked dough in the middle of each donut hole was quite the oversight.
We were on a roll until dessert, when the meal came to a undeveloped halt, but at that point, we picked up enough momentum to carry us through the culinary finish line. We trust that Tinto remedied the situation and that they’ve learned how to fry fully since our visit.
Note: My meal at Tinto was complimentary.