My first visit was promising. The restaurant channels a Spanish vibe -- art featuring bulls, wines racks on the wall, with flashes of modern design. The wine list has a very good selection of Spanish wines. Plus the sherry list is much better than most Spanish restaurants. Sherry, after all, is the wine best suited to this food.
And the food is quite good.
Delicious small plates
The best dish I tried was caracoles andaluzes -- snails in a creamy broth along with artichokes and sun-dried tomatoes. The broth was full of flavor. And like a bowl of mussels, we couldn't stop dipping in bread. The snails were not served with shells. They had a nice, slightly chewy texture.
Even a house salad, arugula with figs and cabrales cheese, was an interesting mix of flavors.
I also enjoyed a mixed plate -- the Montadito plate -- which includes toast points with various combinations of Spanish ingredients, such as quail egg over chorizo and piquillo pepper with blood sausage and spinach.
Is it authentic?
The menu has a wide variety of dishes Spanish ingredients that attempt to invoke the flavors of Spain.
Yet, like other Spanish restaurants in Houston, this is not a real tapas bar. That's not a criticism. Most, but not all, tapas bars in Spain are dives with a small menu. Most focus on drinks more than food. Many have a handful of great dishes. But some serve crap.
Houston's tapas restaurants -- Tintos, Rioja, Mi Luna -- are more ambitious. They have large dining rooms that seat dozens of people. Their menus try to encompass the full range of Spanish foods in a giant tapas menu -- something most real Spanish tapas bars would never do. They also try to appeal to Houstonian tastes. Most of the time the food works. Sometimes it doesn't.
My first impression is that the food at Tintos works. It might even rival Rioja, the best Spanish restaurant in Houston..
Just don't call it a tapas bar.