Roughly translated, merienda means “snack” in Spanish, and a merienda is a light meal enjoyed by many Mediterranean peoples, where a range of small dishes feature prominently. For Craig Corsetti, owner and head chef of Merienda, it was a similar combination of experiences that helped create this acclaimed wine-and-tapas bar in Warren. There was his very first job, then an Italian sabbatical, and finally his settling in Rhode Island. A chef’s influences are always tasted in the menu, but in this case, guests can clearly sense Corsetti’s diverse palate of personal experiences, served on an elegant white plate.
Tell me about your journey – how did you get into the restaurant business?
I started in the restaurant business after college. I ended up switching careers into food, and [for] my first culinary job I was on the opening staff of a Spanish tapas restaurant in DC called Jaleo. The chef was José Andrés, he’s a well-known Spanish chef and had his own cooking show on PBS. I then went to work in wine retail and helped develop a small gourmet food department for a wine shop in New Hampshire for about two years. Then I ended up going to Italy and cooking there for about eight months, where I worked right outside of Florence at Trattoria Iricchi. I moved back to DC and worked with James Beard winner Ann Cashion and was there for over a year before going into wholesale wine for a local winery in Rhode Island.
Tell me a little about opening your own restaurant.
As far as opening, it took a lot of advanced planning. I worked closely with the town of Warren, who were very helpful. Besides that was the fun part – developing the menu, working on the wine list. It’s getting the business laid out properly and having a long-term strategy. I signed a lease in November 2016, and was up and running by March, because I had done so much in advance. We thought a lot about the image we wanted to present, which was a casual Spanish taverna. We didn’t want this to have the appearance of a stuffy restaurant; we wanted it to be informal, which is what tapas restaurants are.
What makes Merienda stand out?
We wanted to provide something different. We are a scratch kitchen; everything is made here. As far as menu development, we wanted to be as authentic as possible. We had the idea of doing a little bit of Italian, but the draw, really, was the Spanish cuisine and the authenticity. We wanted to create the food that, when people return from Spain, they talk about. We’ve had a number of Spanish expatriates in here and say the food is on the mark.
What is your favorite item on the menu?
We make a really great paella with a slight East Bay riff, called Paella de Bahia Este. We make the paella the traditional way and use the same ingredients and cooking techniques, but it’s an East Bay variant so we use Rhode Island littlenecks, East Bay calamari, and, of course, add chicken. We wanted to include ingredients that are native to this area.
What’s next for Merienda?
We are always updating our menu. In the fall, we are looking forward to creating more winter dishes, tapas portions of roast meat, and warm, rich dishes for the fall. We may highlight certain new wines. Each weekend we also have new specials, depending on the local
125 Water Street, Warren • 401-310-0501