Diner: Understated Elegance

Tink's Café offers a flexible menu in chic environs

Mar 14, 2007 at 2:06 pm
Joe Lamb

High gusting winds, blowing snow and a low of 8 degrees. On a night like this, I'd rather stay home and have a peanut butter and salmonella sandwich than head out into the weather for a dinner review.

But I'm so incredibly devoted to my faithful CityBeat readers! And, luckily, our dinner at Tink's Café was delicious, because otherwise I know where all three of you live.

Driving up the Clifton hills qualified as a near-death experience, but once we sludged our way indoors we were impressed with the surroundings. Tink's is understated and chic, with polished wood floors, a dark painted acoustic tile ceiling and a broad expanse of windows to let in the natural light — when it's not sleeting like the South Pole. We were led to a warm table in the corner, and took solace in a velvety Côtes du Rhône ($26/bottle).

Our server explained that there was an appetizer special ($12) — a choice of raw oysters or Oysters Rockefeller. I thought that since they were willing to bake the little critters, they might also pan-fry them, my favorite preparation. The chef agreed, and I enjoyed six absolutely perfect, nicely seasoned little gems.

My dear husband, having done his best Nanook of the North impression mushing sled dogs through the Clifton merchants' parking lot, went for the Crab Cake ($9.99). It was delightful, perched atop a sesame noodle salad that was spiked with a little Thai chili sauce. You could easily make a dinner out of appetizers at Tink's — in fact, the Shrimp and Grits can be ordered as an appetizer ($9.99) or an entrée ($21.99).

It sounds wonderful — ursin and white cheddar cheeses and a sauce flavored with smoky, peppery tasso ham. A partially defrosted couple near us shared the Fried Green Tomatoes ($8.99), which were nicely layered with goat cheese and tomato confit, and our server recommended the Smoked Salmon Tartar ($9.99), also presented in layers with potato pancakes.

I resisted ordering the Roasted Beet Salad ($8.99) only because roasted beet purée was the base for the Sea Bass entrée special ($30). The soft, sweet fish had been broiled crisp on the outside, and was served with a chiffonade of stir-fried arugula. The dish was beautifully composed, and our server was correct when she said that it was better than the sum of its parts.

I had a little sticker shock at the price when the check came, though. I hadn't asked, and they hadn't told, but when a special is that pricey — higher than anything on the regular menu — I think a warning is due.

On follow-up, Tink's General Manager Carlos Hall said that $30 was not beyond the average mark-up for sea bass, and besides, he assured me, it wasn't a problem.

"We're an upscale café," he explained, "and to most of our guests money is no object."

Was he surprised that the server didn't mention the price? Not at all! But cavalier attitude aside, the average entrée price is $19.50, which is good value for the quality.

Almost every dish at Tink's had a unique twist. The Seven Spice Chicken ($17.99), a split whole breast, was prepared with Oriental elements like hoisin, sesame and bok choy, but instead of traditional rice noodles there was the surprise of homemade spaetzel underneath. Very witty, and they worked very well in the dish.

Another good choice on this winter night would have been the Gumbo ($15.99) served over white cheddar grits. The Lamb Porterhouse ($24.99) with golden raisins and cardamom cream also sounded tempting.

Tink's menu is very flexible, which makes this a good choice for pre- or post-movie dining. The Esquire Theatre's schedule is thoughtfully posted on cards at each table. If you wanted to hurry, there are meal-sized salads and interesting sandwiches on the menu. I was intrigued by the Blackened Tofu ($7.99) with avocado and garlic aioli, and the Flank Steak Salad ($12.99) is nicely composed and dressed with grilled lemon roasted garlic vinaigrette.

My only quibble was the Tiramisu ($6.50). Doesn't anyone know how to flavor this classic dessert with a little booze? C'mon, it's just not right without the bite!

But the Cinnamon Toast Crème Brulee ($6.50) was excellent, so all is forgiven. We shared a warm cup of coffee ($2) and headed back out into the cold. ©

Tink's Café
Go: 3410 Telford Ave., Clifton

Call: 513-961-6500

Hours: Lunch: 11 a.m.—2 p.m. Monday—Friday; dinner: 5-9 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 5-10 p.m. Friday-Saturday

Prices: Expensive

Payment: All

Red Meat Alternatives: Many, including salads, seafood and tofu

Accessibility: Good

Grade: B+