Two Tapas Bars in Rhode Island
We visited two Spanish hotspots: La Vasca and Merienda Tapas, Cinchetti and Wine Bar.
Merienda Tapas, Cicchetti and Wine Bar
The streets of Rhode Island are lined with history. Clapboard, brick, stone and shingle all tell the centuries-old story of settlers building a new nation intent on forging its own identity. It’s perhaps surprising that an eighteenth-century Colonial that eventually became the Nathaniel Porter Inn, would house Merienda. (The founding fathers weren’t known for pushing a Spanish agenda.) But oddly, when the wide-planked floors, dark timber ceilings and interior windows are punctuated with string lights and candles, they take on a hacienda air — all relaxation and repose. Even the heavy wooden bar evokes Hemingway sitting in Cuba, trading stories over hours worth of drinks.
It’s a charming space, in certain corners irresistibly romantic, with candles dripping languidly in the fireplaces. Not a bad spot for an ode to garlic and ham, which is where Merienda’s affinities lie. Though there are some cicchetti (snacks) –— manchego and quince or fried almonds — the hot tapas are well suited for the moody space. Gambas al ajillo, a quartet of sauteed shrimp ($9), is a garlic bomb. (“We don’t do essence,” says one server. “We go big.”) But it pairs well with the mellow albondigas ($6), cinnamon spiced meatballs that one diner described as “the first thing Yankee Candle should serve if they open a restaurant.”
Nothing is complicated at Merienda, but everything evokes a sense of the past, of the dishes that were long ago new and now familiar favorites. Deviled eggs ($2) are piquant with strips of Spanish ham, brought to the table on wedges of bread that, chilled, are more for balance than consumption. But once those wedges are char-grilled and topped with crushed tomato and ham ($6) — or a chunky spread of tuna with peas ($5) — it typifies the style by which Europeans rule the sandwich world.
There are no grand platters at Merienda — no trays of paella or shellfish. In fact, the most memorable bites are the smallest. If the goal is simply to sit by the candlelight with a glass of Rioja, it’s imperative to chase the wine with a skewer of bacon wrapped dates ($6). Diminutive and cooked until candied, it’s the archetypal snack, a single bite of Spanish influence crossing the American border. That it landed in a 200-year-old house saturated with stories of expatriates is more cultural collision than conflict, and proof that European ethos is ready to be uncorked.
125 Water St., Warren, 310-0501, meriendawinebar.com
Wheelchair accessibility is a challenge in an eighteenth-century house. Lot parking.
Capacity Fifty seats in a spacious setting.
Vibe Benjamin Franklin tells the founding fathers what Europe is really like by feeding them a meal.