Volume 74, Number 50 | April 20 - 26 , 2005

Villager photos by Elisabeth Robert

A customer’s dinner, cooked at Tanti Baci restaurant, arrives around the corner in a paper bag in the small preparation area at the Flower Room.

No kitchen? No problem for W. 10th St. restaurant

By Kayleen Schaefer

Tanti Baci’s Flower Room, with its twinkling lights outside and cozy tables topped with white linens and red roses inside, is the sort of restaurant where marriage proposals take place and anniversaries are celebrated. It is not the type of place where one would expect his or her food to arrive at the front door in a paper bag, like a Tuesday night delivery of pad thai.

But, every evening, deliverymen in white coats ferry spaghetti pomodora and risotto verde through the streets of the West Village to the Flower Room. There, they parade it through the front entrance, past mostly oblivious diners and into a back room, where waiters put it on real plates. “We’re sly about it,” says owner Francesca Toppani. “It’s not like we drop the bag on the table.”

Indeed, on a recent Thursday night, Stanley Doumanski, who was on his first visit to the Flower Room, never saw his dinner slip through the door. “I was too busy staring at that beautiful lady,” he said, motioning to his date.

When observant customers question where their food is coming from, waitress Ruth Simo often jokes that it’s from Rafaella’s, a competitor across the street. But, in fact, it comes from Tanti Baci’s other location around the corner on W. 10th St., about a block away. Those to whom Simo tells the truth are unfazed. Laura from Los Angeles, who’s been coming here for 10 years and asked that only her first name be used, said, “It doesn’t bother me at all.”

A meal is ferried by foot between Tanti Baci and the Flower Room by a restaurant worker, far right.

The reason for the ruse is simple: the restaurant doesn’t have a kitchen. Toppani opened the Flower Room in 1998 as a takeout shop for focaccia sandwiches. But her customers were already familiar with the nearby Tanti Baci, which opened in 1993, and its simple menu of mix-and-match pastas and sauces, such as ricotta-filled ravioli with olive oil and garlic. “People were always asking for the pasta dishes,” she said. “We knew there was no way to have a kitchen, but we were doing deliveries around the neighborhood so it made sense to take it the extra block.”

The Flower Room has a small preparation area, separated from the main part by a cloth shower curtain, with three refrigerators, three sinks and, perhaps not surprisingly, a microwave — although Toppani said, “We’ve never had a complaint the food is cold.”

However, Simo admits the timing can be tricky. She phones in orders to the other location keeping in mind “spaghetti is fast,” she said. “Risotto takes longer.”

And, in a place where the staff and red wine-fueled customers sometimes dance together to Latin music, the hurried trips between locations complement the energetic atmosphere. Said Toppani, “It all adds to the laughter.”

Tanti Baci, 163 W. 10th St., 212-647-9651; and Tanti Baci Flower Room, 135 Seventh Ave. S., 212-727-8333.

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