Edit ModuleShow Tags

Flan y Ajo

The tiny Providence eatery brings back the original bar food: tapas that are are bite-size, often simple in preparation and feature an array of textures.



Photography by Angel Tucker

Flan y Ajo half star

225a Westminster St., Providence, 432-6656, flanyajo.com. Hours Open Mon.-Fri. for lunch, Tues.-Sat. for dinner. Wheelchair inaccessible, often S.R.O. Street parking. Cuisine Traditional tapas. Capacity Two dozen sucking in their guts. Vibe The friendliest dive that you hope no one finds out about. Prices Tapas $3–$11; desserts $4–$4.50. Karen’s picks Everything, though sodium-phobes beware. 

Key  Fair  Good  Very Good  Excellent half starHalf-star
 
The coffee shop culture of the past twenty years has taught us a lot, well beyond the capacity to turn beverages into art. It's given rise to an entirely new form of socialization that depends not on texting or tweeting but on face-to-face contact that stretches on for hours and for a relatively paltry sum. (Five dollars may be hefty for a latte but, for three hours of real estate, it's beyond negligible.) It's evident that bar life shaped Starbucks — buy a drink, become a regular, build community (albeit sober) — but it's also clear that coffee houses have begun to influence bar food.
 
Though the industrialized world may never tire of standing around doing shots, there has been a concerted effort over the years to infuse a less collegiate atmosphere into small spaces with even smaller kitchens. Alcohol will bring a profit, but if it's all you offer, you're as disposable as the Solo cups on the shelf. 
 
So where do we go from sticky wings and gummy nachos? Back to the original bar food: tapas. Bite-size and generally simple in preparation — often dishes need little more than olive oil, salt and heat — there's an inherent jubilation in such a disparate array of textures. The minute space that holds Flan y Ajo, formerly home to Farmstead's downtown offshoot, was claimed by Siobhan Maria Etxeberria and Diego Luis Perez in 2012 and, if possible, it seems even more diminutive than its former incarnation. Until you eat, that is.
 
The challenge is simply getting in the door. The space holds two dozen people at best and that's assuming fourteen of them are standing up. Eclectic describes everything in the culinary terrarium, from the people (college students in combat boots, retirees and Spanish expatriates longing for home) to the decor, which includes a random filing cabinet, old school pinball machine and fractured chalkboard announcing the nightly menu. 
 
What comes out of the makeshift, open kitchen, however, is an exultant slice of Spanish culture. Wedges of manchego and chorizo are challenged by more composed dishes: garlic grilled bread with a daub of softened tomato, salmon and goat cheese drizzled in oil, cubes of roasted potatoes awash in spicy pepper sauce and topped with a fried egg. Offerings shift nightly, which feeds the convivial thrill of discovery, even for regulars. Or perhaps it's the erasable sign that breeds affability, as it declares to all that “we don't have more seats” and, additionally, there are “no a**holes” allowed. The hard line approach seems to have worked. 
 
Any free space capable of holding a dish is a legit table, pinball included. Tiny plates of monkfish — half poached, half roasted — topped with aioli find a space just long enough to cool and consume. Even pimientos de padron, blistered peppers coated copiously in sea salt ($6), pair with everything that comes out of the kitchen. Even better: Flan y Ajo is a BYOB situated next to ENO wine, with only a $5 corkage fee and the opportunity to morph your tempranillo into sangria. And if expansion is on the horizon, so much the better.
 
 

 

Edit ModuleEdit ModuleShow Tags Edit ModuleShow Tags

Extras

Dining Listings

Browse our comprehensive Insider's Guide dining listings for local restaurants - searchable by cuisine, distance and price range.

Gift Subscriptions

Gifting the best of Rhode Island all year long just got better - only $17.97 for a combo print/digital subscription.

Social Media

Socialize with us! See what we're posting on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, YouTube and LinkedIn.

Holidays

Consult our annual guide to help you find the season's best gifts and for shopping advice from local store owners.

Whole Woman

Sponsored by Care New England.

GuideRI.com

Explore Rhode Island with our mobile friendly website. Get the inside scoop on restaurants, activities, shopping destinations and more.
Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit ModuleShow Tags

Popular Articles

  1. The Dish: Simone's Opens in Warren
    After two years of planning and renovations, chef Joe Simone launches his own restaurant.
  2. Meet 250 Dogs at Super Dog Adoption Day
    The nonprofit organization Always Adopt is holding the special event on Nov. 1 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Clark Farms in Matunuck.
  3. The Weekly Round-up: Five Can't-Miss Events
    Oct. 30–Nov. 5
  4. 12 Area Homes Decked Out for Halloween
    We took rides through some area neighborhoods in Rhode Island and Massachusetts to find some of the best Halloween decorations.
  5. Michelle Obama Campaigns in Rhode Island
    The first lady will be joined by the president in Providence later today.