Reviews: The Slow Rhode and Vinya

Their plates may be small, but they're filled with flavor.

The Slow Rhode

425 West Fountain St., Providence.
Open nightly for dinner. No reservations. Wheelchair accessibility is negotiable with small effort; it is a bar. Lot parking.
Capacity Thirty.
Vibe Concrete meets modern art over a plate of gravy fries.
Prices $4–$14.

The Slow Rhode’s Duck drumettes with white barbecue. Fried oysters over black-eyed pea stew with bacon and remoulade.
 

It’s unclear when bar food officially changed its name to “small plates,” nor is anyone precisely sure when the trend morphed into a staple. But if the approach is awkward at a restaurant (barrel-chested men looking forlornly at their micro-dish), it’s right at home in the modern bar. In fact, chefs are actively seeking alternative outposts in order to dress up casual favorites without losing their ambition.

Chef Patrick Lowney, who owns Broadway Bistro, and partners James Dean and Patsy Wilson, have joined the fray with The Slow Rhode — a bar bistro tucked behind Providence’s police headquarters and next to Long Live Beerworks. Dean teaches at RISD, which seems pretty obvious when you walk into the converted garage. Take out the tables and you might think it’s a gallery opening with a cash bar. One might call it hipster; flannels are rubbing up against rugby shirts at the bar and the Clash’s loud cries are juxtaposed with an occasional blues anthem. But the crowd isn’t identified by age as much as a common interest in slightly buzzed banter. The big bearded men and tattooed ladies have a presence but Patagonia-clad parents and slickly coiffed septuagenarians sidle up comfortably as well.

There are a lot of options when it comes to booze but the house drinks are old school: gin, vodka, tequila and bourbon are served with little more than a shot of acid, a hint of something aromatic and a dash of heat. Anyone looking for froth or sweetness has wandered into the wrong joint. As for seating, there are roughly twice as many chairs as there are bar stools (which brings the total to just more than thirty) and there’s good reason. The menu is a hyped up version of pub grub but still elevated enough to get at least one foot in restaurant status.

Lowney calls the food Southern but this isn’t meat-and-three as much as New Orleans nightcap. Duck makes its way into a lot of things, which is a bit like putting a keg in every room and asking a college kid if they think it’s too much. Lollipop duck legs are fried wing-style with a white barbecue slather and confit is ladled over fries and gravy. Maybe it should hit 100 percent humidity in a Southern swell to love this kind of food but no one at Slow Rhode seemed concerned about ditching their own culinary identity in favor of dirty fries. And, of course, there’s the all-important fried portion of the Louisiana tour. Crawfish beignets do a beer proud. Even better is the fried chicken, which comes with a wedge of white bread and a heaping pile of potato salad to soak up the three-alarm heat. Most dishes are well under ten bucks, which makes perfect sense for a garage in which food takes pride in making a drink go down easier. There are less geographic-driven dishes — a portion of the menu feels a little bit like a 1970s swingers party (pimento cheese, chicken liver on toast, broccoli casserole with cheddar) — but it all feels apropos to a bar that pours drinks strong enough that people start looking for the fastest way home.
 

 

Vinya

225A Westminster St., Providence, 500-5189, silvershellhospitality.com.
Open Mon.–Sat. for dinner. No reservations. Wheelchair accessibility is doubtful; broad shoulders are a liability in this space. Street parking.
Capacity Twenty inside; eighteen outdoors.
Vibe Barcelona basement stocked with salami and cheese.
Prices $3–$18. No-tipping policy.

 

 Vinya: Topneck ceviche. Shrimp with white wine, garlic and habanero oil.
 

The small space at 225 Westminster Street hints at its previous life as a tapas-style bar but it’s no longer an entity all its own. When Diego Luis Perez opened Flan y Ajo in 2011, tapas was still a novelty and every dish was a native expression of Spanish soil. More than four years and two owners later, the restaurant bears some resemblance to its progenitor: charcuterie platters center around slices of serrano and soppressata; wedges of wine-soaked goat cheese turn to plasmatic gold under the weight of a Chianti. Vinya is still BYOB and, adjacent to Eno Fine Wines, it’s still the willing recipient of any worthy cork.

The new owners, Massimiliano and wife Alethia Mariotta, have adopted a more mature aesthetic than Perez. Gone are the pinball machine and arbitrary filing cabinet, forfeited in favor of a sleeker (and more hygienic) approach. Vinya is really just a kitchen with a small bar surrounding it. The stools around the perimeter of the room are for those more interested in each other than the dish of the moment. But the machinations of the restaurant belong entirely to the young.

There’s very little about the Mariottas that’s green: He continues to consult on culinary operations around the world while she, a lawyer turned entrepreneur, often stands in the corner scanning the room for efficiency and efficacy. (No one said there was anything easy about restaurant life.) The couple recently took over the restaurant Rosmarin at the Hotel Providence and Vinya is, in some sense, a training ground and test kitchen for that location. Both servers are students more than teachers though Mariotta is nurturing independence as much as technical skill. “We are not really Spanish,” he says to diners perched on low stools, eating olives. “We’re an incubator — of ideas and of people.”  

Accordingly, the menu circles a general theme but meanders regularly. Everything lasts about four bites and favors aggressive flavor: shrimp is steeped in garlic and habaneros, meatballs coated in tangy tomato sauce, and everything from egg to potatoes takes a shine to paprika. Even firm lupini beans carry enough heat and salt to make half a dozen bites just enough. In total, there are about a dozen dishes to choose from every night, including daily specials, but the food is almost incidental in a space filled with people who want to talk about the food scene, the neighborhood or the wine next to them that looks more interesting than theirs. There’s a DIY attitude in Vinya that’s not limited to those on the working side of the counter. Everyone here wants to play a part in building the next culinary empire and all are willing to weigh in when decisions need to be made. An unexpected platter of tiramisu makes its way around the small restaurant — “from Rosmarin, or it will be if it’s good!” — to which four enthusiastic eaters agree it should be put on a menu down the street. “I wonder if we could get him to bring some pastries in too,” muses a neighbor on a preschool- sized stool at the window. “If they’re willing, I could sit here all day.”

 

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