Favorite

Sea side 

Dive into Bistro de Pinto and freshen up

click to enlarge Mike Pinto and Tammy Eggert-Pinto add flavor to the - downtown scene. - 2006 LAURA MONTGOMERY RUTT
  • 2006 LAura Montgomery Rutt
  • Mike Pinto and Tammy Eggert-Pinto add flavor to the downtown scene.

It's been a long wait for Bistro de Pinto, the cozy downtown eatery whose opening was delayed when the chef took a tumble last winter and broke his leg. But it was worth it. The newest incarnation of the restaurant space at 26 E. Kiowa St. harks back to its Three Doors Down glory days with an intriguing menu, spiffed-up dcor, thoughtful service and, oh yeah, really good food.

Owner/manager Tammy Eggert-Pinto and her husband, chef Mike Pinto, have combined her New Mexican sensibilities with his Panamanian flair to create a menu that's big on flavor and fresh ingredients, ambitious but not precious. Expect hefty servings, artfully arranged.

Lunch features several Mexican plates that I haven't tried, but I can recommend the tortilla soup ($3 cup, $4.25 bowl), available at both lunch and dinner. This version is thick and smoky, almost like a warm, blended gazpacho, with cubes of fresh avocado floating around and lightly fried tortilla strips mounded on top. The corn flavor of the tortillas infuses the soup, and every bite unearths a string of melted, mild cheese.

Lunch specials change every day, and I hit the jackpot the day I ordered the blackened jumbo shrimp special ($9.95). Genuinely jumbo shrimp (shrimp are often disappointing in size and freshness in our geographic strata) are rubbed with spices and grilled to just the right springy texture, then drizzled with a summer berry and red wine reduction made with strawberries, raspberries and blueberries. On the side is a mound of wild orzo and thick asparagus spears, carefully trimmed and steamed, wrapped in ribbons of roasted red bell pepper.

A regular lunch item, the shrimp and pancetta pasta ($10.95), features the hefty crustaceans over penne pasta in a vibrant bowl that includes roasted garlic, spinach, pine nuts, smoky pancetta and artichokes, all swimming in a mild basil pesto sauce.

My favorite lunch pasta, however, is the Pasta de la Casa ($9.95), a rich mlange with moist nuggets of chicken breast, firm emu sausage, fresh chopped basil and oven-dried tomatoes over curly gemelli pasta with a fragrant white wine and garlic-butter cream sauce. There's plenty for two here; split a bowl and enjoy one of the elaborate house salads.

Dinner at Bistro de Pinto has been full of surprises as well, with the exception of the pork piccata ($16.95), which isn't cut or pounded thin enough to be scallopine and could use more lemon.

The signature entre, Tres Amigos ($20.95), is a delight. A grilled baby filet mignon as smooth as butter (the Pintos use Ranch Foods Direct beef) is flanked by two huge grilled prawns on one side and a nearly boneless quail stuffed with mushrooms and pancetta on the other. The vegetable medley of asparagus, broccoli and squash is exceptionally well-prepared, fresh and nicely seasoned.

Mother always said save the best for last. Lobster ravioli ($9.25) is a sinfully extravagant appetizer worth every ounce of guilt rendered. The pungent scent of a balsamic reduction that rings the plate precedes the sweet flavor of the plump ravioli, stuffed with boursin cheese and chewy bits of lobster meat. Close your eyes and you can smell the sea.

Did I mention the food is really good?


capsule

Bistro de Pinto

26 E. Kiowa St., 473-3538

Hours: Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; closed Sunday.

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