Monday, January 26, 2015

Bar Tulia in Naples, Florida

Bar Tulia is a relaxing 50 seat nook on Naples 5th Avenue South. It is a unique watering hole to enjoy lunch or dinner with a creative menu. Bar Tulia is also one of the few spots open after 11 pm in Naples, when many other dining sites are closed. (Weekend Willie’s and Alto are hopping then, too.) This self described “gastropub” is next door to its older, larger and quite successful sister, Osteria Tulia. Both restaurants are meant to be “osteria” casual. That means as if you were eating in someone’s home in Italy. Here in Naples there’s a welcome blending of  Italian style with Florida’s locally sourced fish, shellfish and produce. 
I was invited to a recent media event to sample some of the menu. I like the intimate bistro feel, with dark wood beams overhead, a beautiful wood floor with a central brick path, and matching wood tables. 
The walls are decorated with black and white photographs. The front half of the floor plan has tables and chairs, and the back part is the long white Carrera marble bar, rimmed by a dozen or so tall chairs. While seated at the bar, you may watch pizzas emerge from the oven and young bartenders' sleight of hand.
When I open a menu at most restaurants, I seek dishes that are not found on the menus at nearby restaurants. I didn’t have to look far to find evidence of Chef Vincenzo Betulia’s unique creations, such as: crisp fried pig ears; wood charred octopus; fried rabbit wings; fried veal sweetbreads with toasted waffle and maples syrup ( a riff on chicken and waffles), and braised lamb neck sugo & sheep cheese pasta. Top that for creative and unique!

Relax, there’s also a good assortment of less adventuresome dishes, too.  Chef Betulia, the former Executive Chef at Campiello,  has succeeded at creating  “a fun and laid back neighborhood hangout where guests can experience great wine, craft drinks and modern pub food late into the evening.” 

 The prices are quite reasonable, considering this is smack dab along the center of often pricey 5th Avenue South.

We started with charred shishitos with grated foie gras ($12), which are 3 inch long sweet green peppers that are lightly blistered. 
Eat them like candy or toasted green bell peppers-there’s just no “heat” to them-I wish the dish instead used peppers with a little “heat.” We couldn’t really detect a subtle foie gras flavor.

The fried rabbit wings ($14) were a delicious treat, the quintet was nicely crisped and tender, topped with slices of pickled radish, nicely complemented by a rich Gorgonzola dipping sauce. 

The hogfish ceviche ($16) is a generous portion of local fish, with bits of shrimp, avocado, heirloom tomatoes, red onion and cilantro with lemon and lime juice, paired with fried pizza dough. 

We had a hands-down favorite-the healthy fresh cauliflower salad ($6), with crisp florets mingling with currants, Marcona almonds and scallions, topped with grated  Pecorino cheese and a light  mustard vinaigrette.
 Highly recommended.

Have a drink! With over 50 wines, craft beers, mixed drinks or the homemade Tulia Limoncello,  there’s no shortage of choices. I had a refreshing Savoy Swizzle, with two rums, Absinthe, Demerara brown sugar, Peyraud’s Bitters and muddled mint.
 There’s plenty of  traditional items too.  The rigatoni with Bolognese sauce ($10/20), grated Parmigiano cheese and flecks of fresh parsley fits the bill nicely.
There’s something almost primal about a fresh baked pizza, as fellow diners tug slices away to their plates, dripping strands of melted cheese and toppings along the way to their mouths. We loved  the Modena ($12) pizza with pancetta, house-made  ricotta cheese, Brussels sprout petals and garlic chips.
 The  Spilinga pizza’s ($12)  a treat with  N’Duja salame, cavolo nero (black leaf kale) , San Marzano tomatoes,  Mozarella and fennel pollen.
Next time, I’ll try the “Roman Ramen” with pork shoulder, shrimp ,carrots, scallion and clam-kombu broth, and the colorful sepia spaghetti with clams, smoked butter, guanciale (pork cheeks) and leeks. The grilled house sausage with stewed white beans, garlic and rosemary is perfect for a cool day.

Dine inside or outside- I prefer to people watch, especially when the weather’s cooler.

Bar Tulia
462 5th Ave. South, Naples, FL

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