Location: 200 Washington St, Providence, RI 02903
Cuisine: small plates
Tini is a restaurant owner's fantasy brought to life. Tired of cooking endless hours in a kitchen? Only stay open from 5-10PM, have twenty seats maximum capacity, and offer a total of ~15 items on the menu, including appetizers, specials, veggies, main bites, and desserts. It feels like George and Johanne (founders and owners of Al Forno) have created a space where they can do exactly what they want without regard to standard rules- knowing full well that their reputation will pull plenty of curious diners in for a meal. The only trick is, if you are going to make an unusual eatery, it better be pretty damn good.
When you enter Tini (right across from Trinity Rep) it feels like you are in the front bar of a posh restaurant. Except that is the whole restaurant. Somehow they manage to fit 20 seats into an area that feels about the size of a 15 passenger van. Seating is on the outside of a U-shaped bar, with two multi-function bartenders snugly placed in the middle. The only printed menu you get is for drinks- the food menu runs on a powerpoint style loop on a flat-screen TV on one wall. Neat idea, except for the 8 people sitting in front of the screen are a bit out of luck, and the 8 people on the far side never get to put their menu away.
Drinks focus on the pink cocktails (genus cosmopolitanus), the mar(tini), and an offering of very reasonably priced european wines. We had a great bottle of french white for $30, that offered a fruity body with well balanced sweet and acid notes.
Everything on the menu is small, but priced accordingly- the most expensive item was $10 on our visit. We grazed our way through 7 items (half the menu!) over 2 hours, including an endive caesar salad, homemade fries with a garlic mayo and hot sauce, magic beans, poached pear with gorgonzola, pomegranate, and frizze, steak tartare, and a dessert of 3 panna cotta shots, and a chocolate icebox cake. Everything was good. Flavors were mature and well rounded, hitting all your taste buds in a fashion similar to Al Forno. The poached pear salad was outstanding- probably one of the best prepared dishes I have tasted in the last year. Overall the food was very solid, with hints of perfection that I hope soon reach to more of the menu. With a little tweaking I think Tini has the potential to offer the best food around (they have only been open a week).
Service was perfect- fun, friendly and polite, and water glasses were always full.
The final key to Tini, and what makes it stand out for me was the seating arrangement. By sitting everyone around a single bar, and only having the one menu on the wall for the whole restaurant to read, it is unavoidable that you will end up talking with your neighbors at the bar. Being forced into this intimacy with complete strangers is most unusual for us New Englanders, but it was a great experience and it lent to a very cozy, homey feel for the entire night.
Tini is a unique offering in the Providence food scene. Good food combined with a memorable dining experience and impeccable service earns Tini the highest rating yet. Well done.