Now, here’s a concept you are going to find us talking about for a long time. Let us introduce you to Tini, a fairly new restaurant in Providence, RI. So new, that the signage isn’t even painted on the window yet.
That hasn’t stopped people from finding it. Tini is, well, a tiny restaurant tucked into a row of shops along Washington Street in downtown Providence. And they do have some signage—it’s a subtle but innovative laser-cut on the door handle.
The restaurant the brainchild of the owners of Al Forno, and it’s obvious their restaurant experience has served them well. It’s as though they have figured out all the best parts of a restaurant and reigned them into maximum efficiency.
For example, Tini, true to its name, only seats 19. Total. The bar stools are configured around a white marble bar with stainless ledges, easy for plate placement and clean up. Inside the U-shape is a one-person machine (whose name, on our visit, was Alicia) who does it all—she’s greeter, hostess, order-taker, server, cashier, dishwasher, busboy and bartender, moving through each chore with a smile and the ease provided by a small workspace. Think sushi bar, without the sushi.
The food is tapas style (again with the Tini), meaning it’s shareable. We ordered a variety and split them all four ways, giving us each a bite or two to savor. And savor is exactly what we did.
Our mouths were already watering as we eyed the salads of people already seated, so we studied the electronic menu board to figure out what they were called. Five pages of menu items later we were narrowing down our choices. The Avocado and Grapefruit Salad. The Tini Gem Salad with baby romaine, bacon and gorgonzola. And that was just for starters.
We moved on to the Smoked Salmon and Egg Salad – a delightful throwback to childhood, with creamy egg salad on a slice of white bread, topped with a generous slab of thinly sliced salmon. Of course we had to get the Tini Weenie with Chow Chow, described as a homemade hot dog, and an homage to the New York System wiener that began in Rhode Island. We tried, and loved, the Confit Pork Taco with its hint of cilantro, and the Homemade Fries with an artistic and flavorful drizzle of mayo and hot sauce.
We eyed—but couldn’t quite fit in—the Dirty Rice Burger with Spicy Salsa, the Jarlsberg Fonduta, and the desserts, such as Lime Custard Cup and Chocolate Icebox Cake.
And, we learned that all of this bounty comes out of a tini tiny Chef’s brigade (2-3 people) working in a kitchen not much bigger than the patron space.
It’s actually a concept similar to one seen in Paris at Joel Robuchon’s Restaurant in Paris, although Rubuchon’s concept uses a bigger space and a brigade of chefs. You might also want to see how he’s enacted it in Vegas, at the L’Atelier de JoÃ«l Robuchon in the MGM.
Alicia told us that the menu changes frequently—so much so, that they don’t even offer a paper menu—but that some of the favorites stay (like the Fries, the Steak Tartare, and the Blackbird burger). The item titles are supplemented on screen by photos of the food and the occasional photo of a happy, laughing patron.
It was one of those truly memorable dining experiences, from the strategic corner seating to allow the four of us to talk and share, to the unexpected flavors, to the fun of watching Alicia with 360 degree control over her space. It’s the kind of idea that is novel in its use of space and its delivery of great food. It’s minimalist, with maximum experience, and is probably a franchise-in-the-making—or at least something to be mimicked time and again.
The name may be Tini, but the idea is huge.
P.S. If you have a sense of the absurd at all, you’ll want to check out the bios and information on their website. If you are in Providence, keep an eye out, because the owners tell us they are having another sign fabricated right now that will hang over the door and be visible on both sides.
Above photo provided by Tini; other photos by Sated Epicure and Food Channel.