Saturday, August 1, 2015

Osteria Tulia, Naples, Florida

Housemade burrito with heirloom tomatoes and pea tendrils
For the past couple of years, I've been a loyal customer of Collier Family Farms, a local organic produce farm situated east of Naples.  Last season they participated in my local farmers' market, bringing with them a bounty of tomatoes of all types.  Farmer Steve tells me that the best tomatoes on their farm are earmarked just for Osteria Tulia, the "it" restaurant on Naples' famed 5th Avenue opened by Chef Vincenzo Betulia.  With the help of local purveyors like Collier Family Farms and local butcher, Jimmy P's, Chef Vincenzo extends the farm-to-table concept to rustic Italian fare and creates savory masterpieces that will make you want to come back for more.  And I'm not the only one singing Tulia's praises.  This past season, Tulia saw the likes of Harry Connick, Jr. and famed chef Emeril Lagasse too.  With a following like that, you can bet that Tulia will be around for a long time to come.  

Tulia is charming with its rustic wood flooring and inlaid brick, sophisticated but casual with the feel of a European farm house.  It's romantic enough for that long-deserved date night and at the same time perfect for a leisurely night out with friends.  Whether you are a party of one, two or more, it's easy to relax and enjoy yourself in Tulia's dining room.

Chef Vincenzo's first course appetizers are a hit with its visitors.  The most surprising favorite is Tulia's crisp fried pigs ears.  As off putting as it may sound, this is not your ordinary pork rind.  Only slightly chewy in places, crisp in others, perfectly salted and served with an optional lime wedge, its just the right thing to wet your palate and get you ready for the main course to come.  Don't feel like being adventurous, then stick with Tulia's warm bread service and traditional Italian caponata (just like my husband's Sicilian grandmother used to make).  If you'd rather skip the apps and get started on the courses, Tulia offers a delightful selection of salads.  Among my favorites is the soft and creamy house made burrata with some of Collier Family Farm's supplied heirloom tomatoes, dressed with olive oil, cracked black pepper and pea tendrils.  The watermelon and raspberry salad with frisee and feta is also a nice summer option.  

Garganelli with braised lamb and sheep cheese
But the pasta dishes at Tulia are where it is at.  Made on site, these pasta dishes are to die for (and for a little bit extra can be made gluten free).  I'm a short rib fan so the tortellini is one of my go to options when dining at Tulia.  And if Anna isn't with me, the garganelli with braised lamb is a nice choice too.  The meats added to these dishes are both cooked nicely, appropriately sauced and properly highlighted by these well made pastas.  Having difficulty choosing?  Wednesday nights this summer, Tulia offers a pasta tasting flight with a trio of selections.   Have picky kids?  There's no reason that they too can't enjoy Tulia.  I've been told the kitchen will oblige a finicky eater with buttered versions of these pastas.

If you are not into pasta, my newest Tulia recommendation is the seafood risotto.  Anyone who has tried to make risotto at home knows that a well-cooked risotto is not easily done.  It takes a lot of patience and practice.  So when I have an opportunity to order this traditional Italian rice dish at a restaurant with a chef as skilled as Chef Vincenzo, I don't pass that up.  Billed to be made with "all the seafood in the house", this dish is indeed chock full of bits from the goodness of the waters punctuated with fresh cut scallion.  When the risotto appears again on Tulia's regularly changing menu, I will definitely order it again.  

My biggest recommendation though is to come to Tulia with an empty stomach.  Why?  Because, after dining through all of these amazing dishes, you really don't want to miss the dessert selections.  Just like their is savory courses, Tulia's sweet plates don't disappoint.  Visually inviting and equally tasty, these desserts make for a great capper to a great night.

The best thing about Tulia?  Enjoying its fare doesn't really have to break your budget.  Don't get me wrong.  I'm sure you could really blow through quite a bit of cash here if you really wanted to.  But, sans wine and with careful selections, you could really get out of this place on the cheap.  On our first trip to Tulia, the hubby and I skated away with a bill just under $100.  Not bad when you consider we'd ordered a salume app, a salad, two pasta dishes, one dessert, coffee and a glass of wine.  Just the other day, my party of four dined on apps, salads, entrees, dessert, coffee and several glasses of wine for a total, with tip, of $210.  Not bad, right?!  If that's still too rich for your pocket, then head next door to Chef Vincenzo's gastropub, Bar Tulia, for high quality plates at more casual prices.

What can I say, I love Osteria Tulia.  It's one of the places I bring anyone who is new to Naples.  It's a place I go to celebrate a holiday.  Because this place itself is something to celebrate.  

Dining cheque rating:  $$$
Dining spoons rating:  4 1/2 spoons

Osteri Tulia on Urbanspoon

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