One of the benchmarks of a robust dining scene is a plethora of neighborhood restaurants — spots that may not often pop up in national food publications, but which manage to sustain a devoted local clientele.
Count the Tulip Bistro & Bar on Romany Road in that number. As one of a triumvirate of restaurants owned by three partners (the other two are A.P. Suggins, also on Romany, and Nick Ryan’s on Jefferson Street), the Tulip combines a casual bistro menu with a “Cheers” “everybody knows your name” ambiance.
On a recent Wednesday night — with a winter weather advisory in effect — my friend and I stopped in for an early dinner. It must have been the weather, but the usual chatter from a raucous crowd was missing. A few tables and booths were occupied; a few more patrons were clustered at the impressively large bar, and a table in the back was taken up by a lively group more reminiscent of the Tulip’s normal diners.
In fact, one member of the group — who identified himself as being from Chicago (a pretty fair restaurant town) — was so enamored of the chicken roulade he had ordered that he couldn’t stop touting its virtues.
Alas, I don’t know if it lived up to the accolades as I had ordered the pork chop, house brined and grilled, accompanied by roasted baby carrots and haricot verts, the latter a substitution for the usual Weisenberger white grits ($24.) Pork chops is a dish I don’t usually order, as in past experience at other restaurants, they have often arrived dry and bordering on tough.
Fortunately, that was not the case at the Tulip. No doubt due to the local honey and rosemary beurre blanc the chop was drizzled with, it was juicy and moist without being overly saturated.
As for the sides, they were a hit and a miss. The haricot verts were cooked just right — neither too soft nor too hard — while the carrots were somewhat bland. It wasn’t so much that they weren’t good, as that they were lacking in any taste. Some brown sugar or a zesty spice would have added some zing.
My dining companion opted for the Verlasso Salmon, a farm-raised fish from Chile’s Patagonia region, which has a clean, mild flavor ($27). The salmon was beautifully prepared, and according to her, was hot upon arrival, well-seasoned and had a delicate, crisp exterior that encased a moist, firm interior.
While she also gave kudos to the main dish, like me, she was less enthused with the sides. The bland, white rice would have benefited from more flavor, she suggested, or replaced with a more interesting variety of wild or black rice.
While many people aren’t thrilled with the prospect of one grain as a side dish, two is definite overkill. Her other side was a cold, creamy concoction of quinoa and cucumbers, garnished with a raw carrot salad more suitable to a balmy summer eve than this blustery late fall night.
Both of us were admittedly curious about the proclaimed paragon chicken roulade ($23). Trying it for myself will have to wait for another visit, but the description — stuffed with goat cheese, bell pepper and spinach, wrapped in prosciutto and pan seared, and served with a ruby port reduction — makes it sound very appealing, especially at that price.
Our dessert choices — mixed berry cobbler for me ($9) and coffee ice cream drizzled with house-made chocolate sauce and Kahlua for my friend ($10) — were a perfect end to the meal.
Service was prompt, courteous and unobtrusive. As for ambiance, while you wouldn’t exactly call the Tulip a sports bar, there are a couple of TVs for those who want a side of Cats with their vittles. Add to this a respectable cocktail and wine list, and at the Tulip, to paraphrase Mr. Rogers, you’ll always feel welcomed to the neighborhood.
If you go
The Tulip Bistro & Bar
Where: 355 Romany Road
Call: (859) 367-6687
Hours: Mon. – Thurs, 4:00 p.m. – 10:00 p.m.; Friday & Saturday, 4:00 p.m. – 10:30 p.m.
Payment: Cash and major credit cards
Other: Ample, free parking