After seven months of serving Barcelona-style rotisserie chicken and wines out of the back door of their cozy Outremont restaurant Alma, owners Lindsay Brennan and Juan Lopez Luna have decided to give the project some added permanency: Tinc Set is getting its own street address, right next door.
“Yes, the neighbourhood life in the back alley is wonderful, and it gives way to the most beautiful sunsets, but there’s also limited visibility, and come winter, it was going to be quite difficult with the snow,” says Brennan, a sommelier and wine importer by trade. Lopez Luna is the chef and also her husband. Together, they opened Mile End pizza and pasta counter Farine (now closed) and Spanish wine bar and restaurant Alma on Lajoie Avenue in 2018.
Tinc Set came to fruition as a solution to the city’s first wave of restaurant closures, but to say the pandemic engendered it would be inaccurate. The idea for a more casual eatery, centred around roast chicken and Catalonian wines, had germinated for much longer. Even the name “Tinc Set” (meaning “I’m thirsty” in Catalan), borrowed from a pét-nat that Brennan carries through her private import business Vin i Vida, had already been picked out before worries of the virus in Canada settled in.
“We had spent all of January in Catalonia, and it was then that we got the blessing from the winemaker to use the name. When we came back we were planning to move forward with the project in a much larger space, but then the pandemic hit and we quickly put those plans on ice. It was clearly not the time to be signing a lease,” Brennan says. Realizing that the pandemic might not be short-lived, reluctant to package Alma’s offering into takeout containers, and armed with a business plan ready to be executed, the pair wondered, “Why don’t we figure out a way that we can launch this within Alma?” Brennan recalls.
After evaluating their existing space, they realized that the size of a commercial-scale rotisserie oven would limit its placement to the back of the kitchen, where it would need to be meticulously nestled, after being carried through the back door — it wouldn’t fit through the main entrance. The decision to have customers pick up orders from the back door naturally followed. Even once dining rooms were allowed to reopen, Tinc Set kept running independently out back, at times generating lines long enough to snake through the alley and up the adjacent lane.
“It really showed us that there’s an opportunity to use every single square inch of your space. Prior to that makeover, the back really wasn’t a great spot. The garbage and recycling was kind of exposed, the paint was washed off — it was just not a space that we gave a lot of love to, nor spent very much time in,” Brennan says. “But with a coat of paint and some flowers, we suddenly had this incredible experience, and the front and back of Alma were two totally different worlds.”
In early January, those worlds will be even more distinct, though still very much in close proximity. Tinc Set is taking over a space that had been home to a dépanneur for some 40 years. “We’ve spent most of October cleaning it, and as you can imagine, there’s a lot of dust and a lot of treasure,” Brennan says, laughing. Among them is a sign that reads “Les Courses de Lajoie” on top of the entryway that they will preserve, as well as a large walk-in beer fridge, which they’ll fill with their preferred beverage: “We’re really excited about the idea of having wine to go,” Brennan says.
In its permanent form, Tinc Set will be equal parts takeout counter, grocery store, wine bar, and neighbourhood restaurant: A place you could go for a glass of wine and some tapas after a day’s work, grab a low-key dinner, or pick up some fresh bread and eggs. “We really want there to be room for spontaneity, and since Alma is quite small, it’s also going to be nice to be able to move people from side to side when there is any overflow.”
That fluidity will spill into the kitchen, where an opening between the two spaces will allow Lopez Luna to preside over the back-of-house choreography of both of his restaurants simultaneously. And as with Alma, the dishes at Tinc Set will be primarily inspired by the Catalan wines it will serve. “I import wines from the region, and as a result, my husband, who’s originally from Mexico, has spent a lot of time travelling there with me over the last few years, working with the winemakers, and cooking with their creations.”
The headliner dish — the Tinc Set chicken — is, after all, Lopez Luna’s culinary reimagining of La Bufarrella, a white wine from the Penedés region, made of Xarello grapes, which grow from vines interlaced with wild fennel and rosemary and surrounded by orange trees. “Juan really wanted to bring those aromatics to the chicken. Given how closely we work with the wines, but also the people who create them, it felt fitting,” Brennan says. With travel still largely at a standstill, neither the producer of La Bufarrella nor the winemaker who agreed to lend the name of one of its wines to the project last January has had the chance to taste that which they’ve been so integral in inspiring. Meanwhile, Montrealers have been enjoying Tinc Set in abridged form since spring, but come this January, they’ll get to see how wine, rotisserie, tapas, and more all come together in a standalone space.
Tinc Set is slated to open at 1233 Avenue de Lajoie in early January.