Color me happy


Tinto Cocina + Cantina
901 W. Lake St.

“Buen provecho,” trills Rebecca Radilla, beaming her cloud-shattering smile as she patrols the tables, as if guests’ satisfaction were the planet’s biggest worry. Which, to her, it is. She’s proprietor of Tinto Cocina + Cantina, newly risen from the former Uptown digs of Spill the Wine — which you can still do, if you choose to make waste (but why would you?) of the all-Latin list. But I recommend the house margarita — a bracing, anti-syrupy tumbler’s worth. Or the Paloma: tequila, grapefruit soda and more. And the Caballero — Reposada tequila, Spanish brandy and OJ, all priced in the single digits.

Pair your tipple with the kitchen’s pozole, $10, “a recipe from my family in Mexico City,” says Radilla: supper in a bowl — and a refined and refreshing one, in this accomplished rendition, replacing the usual pork with meaty shreds of chicken (“lots of pork already on the menu”) in broth enriched with red mole, harboring kernels of hominy, red cabbage and radishes, chopped microscopically fine and plentiful, under a dusting of parsley and buttery lengths of avocado.

It’s served with ultra-fresh, house-made chips and a hunk of lime for livening: grandma fare recalibrated with fine-dining precision, as was every dish we tasted.

From the enticing list of starters ($10 or under), we chose ropa vieja — a quartet, plated with a jeweler’s artistry, built upon slices of sweet, tender plantains layered with deep-flavored beef, a pert pink tangle of pickled onions for crunch and acid, a drizzling of rich aioli spiked with spurts of heat, and queso fresco in a cooling shower.

Then, tacos (three for $10). The shells are baked, right here in the kitchen, from corn-sweet masa, soft and pliant accomplices in its taco productions. The pork belly version replaces the usual fat-forward cut (which I’m known to love) with a far-meatier portion (love this, too) balanced with the sharp note of roasted tomatillos, along with smoked cheese, roasted pepita seeds adding savor and the fresh breath of cilantro. Oh, but the fish version is equally, elegantly, enticing. Meaty hunks of cod, lightly dusted with rice flour, get a wake-up call from a habanero-infused aioli and oomph from pickled cabbage. Rich, soothing avocado keeps it all in line.

We failed to save room to explore the quartet of entrees ($18–$22), but when has common sense prevailed over gluttony? So we ordered the pollo con mole, a chicken breast blanketed as thick as frosting and complex with chilies and spices, onions and garlic, a bit of dark, non-sweet chocolate and savory sesame seeds. This is the real deal with roots in Oaxaca, the capitol of mole.

Tinto’s trio of desserts ($7) presented a problem. Tres leches (my companion’s primary addiction) or the flan, Senora Radilla’s beats-the-competitors’-recommendation? Well, who can resist pliant sponge cake, soaked not only in the promised milks but also espresso? It’s plated upon a nicely tart berry compote and crowned with cocoa-rich whipped cream. Ole!

The airy dining room is newly dressed in walls of plum and caramel. Tables, bright with candle flickers and posies, are served with able and accommodating staffers, and clearly the kitchen is run with thought and skill. Uptown is the richer.