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We were downtown doing some last minute shopping when we noticed a new restaurant, Vinya, had moved into the original Flan y Ajo/Sushi Yama location on Westminster Street. Vinya bills itself as "Barcelona-inspired tapas"--a bold move to invite a head-to-head comparison with the ghost of the erstwhile Flan. We were intrigued and headed over to try it out on a balmy December night.
Like its predecessor, Vinya is BYOB. Eno, next door, is a perfect pit-stop before the meal. Vinya took over the Sushi Yama space lock, stock and barrel, preserving the improved seating plan and utilizing the same minimalist tableware. Chalkboards announce the daily specials, as well as an impressive selection of cheeses and a few cured meats.
A few seats were occupied when we arrived, but the other patrons soon departed, and we were treated to a private dinner with our own personal chef and server! Dan, the cook, was a friendly, ebullient young man, and a veritable fount of information about the Providence food scene. He somehow managed to cook while carrying on a friendly conversation, and were a little surprised each time a fresh plate of food arrived.
We started with a cheese and meat plate--murcia al vino (goat cheese cured in red wine), quiejo topo (which I believe is Azorean), and aged Serrano--served with membrillo, fresh honey, fruit, and dried fig. A pleasant start to the meal. We then enjoyed two selections from the "cold tapas" menu, spicy lupini beans and olives, which were, ironically, both served piping hot! We agreed, however, that the heat really opened up the flavors, and we're going to try sauteing our own olives at home! Both tapas were appropriately priced at $3.
We then moved on to more substantial tapas from the nightly specials. First, we sampled a very interesting preparation of mussels. The chef used a sweet sherry in place of the usual white wine in the broth, with crushed marcona almonds for a little texture. The entire plate ate very sweet, from the broth to the almonds to the mussels themselves--not for those with a modest sweet tooth, but we enjoyed it a lot. We next tried braised shortribs--super tender with a thick, boozy sauce. Finally, our favorite dish of the night was sauteed brussels sprouts with chorizo and wine sauce. For dessert, we had sweet cinnamon rice with fig and a port glaze--a satisfying end to the meal!
I didn't see much "Barcelona-inspired" in the meal, but I'm not sure I really missed it. I would say that while these plates were in the spirit of traditional tapas--few ingredients, honest and flavorful preparations, and modest portion size--they tended to be more creative than the tapas at your average bar in Spain. Of course, we didn't try a few of the classic tapas on the menu, like tortilla espanola, pan con tomate, or boquerones. By way of comparison, I also found this food a bit heavier than, say, the tapas at Flan. These were rich, boozy plates, and next time we'll probably go for one or more options on the spicy/acidic end of the spectrum. While everything had excellent flavor, I do think the shortribs and the brussels sprouts could have stood a pinch more salt, but I'm a heavy hand with seasoning.
The service was really great and made the meal that much more enjoyable. While Vinya has been entrusted to Dan, the owner is in and out throughout the night, and stopped to chat and make sure we were enjoying our meal.
After a tough year for the downtown food scene (with the loss of bright points like Sushi Yama and Bodega Malasena and the IMO underwhelming addition of Red Fin Crudo) it looks like there's some light on the horizon. Birch's sister-restaurant, Oberlin, is set to open in January. The former Tazza space is will apparently be home to a new restaurant after standing empty so long. Vinya itself was opened by the new owner of Aspire, which will soon relaunch as Rosemary, a classical French restaurant. The bar will serve a New American menu (and be called Tarragon...I think. The bottle of wine was starting to get to my head at that point.) They will also operate a French bakery out of the same space, poised to go head-to-head with Ellie's on Washington. Although Vinya will continue serving tapas, on Wednesdays they are planning to operate as a satellite "test kitchen" for the restaurants in the Hotel Providence. All interesting developments.
Happy eating in 2016 PVD!
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