At Bar Tulia Mercato in Naples, the best meal I've had since the Before Times — JLB review
At the 7-month-old Bar Tulia Mercato in North Naples, our critic found an abundance of delights in every plate, sip and interaction.
It is, perhaps, the house-made ricotta.
How it floats cloud-like atop a thick wedge of toasted sourdough, tethered in place by crisped hazelnuts and wisps of honey warmed by Calabrian chilies.
Or maybe it's the North Atlantic oysters, served icy cool with a Lambrusco-infused mignonette that makes the sweetly briny shellfish even more so.
But no, it has to be the artichoke "flowers," their tender hearts smashed flat, fried crunchy and slaked in a Piedmontese bagna cauda that lights every salty-savory-umami taste bud in your mouth simultaneously. Like magic.
You take a petal of the artichoke, twirl it with a noodle of bucatini from the cacio e pepe, sip your gin-soaked San Junipero, and it hits you: This is the best meal you've had since the Before Times.
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This stunning realization happens at the 7-month-old Bar Tulia Mercato in North Naples. It's thanks to executive chef Kayla Pfeiffer and the Campagna Hospitality Group folks smart enough to allow her to make this restaurant her own.
While there are some plates this new Bar Tulia has in common with the Fifth Avenue South original, there are plenty that are pure Pfeiffer: those brilliant artichokes; the fried squash blossoms; the house-made sausage served with white beans and pancetta, a dish that tastes like Tuscany fall.
But it's not just Pfeiffer who makes this Mercato restaurant so wonderful. It's her team as a whole.
The "Bar" side of this Tulia crafts seriously interesting cocktails. The Stanchez, for one, blends reposado tequila with the softly herbal notes of Amaro Montenegro, fresh peach, bright lime, and a touch of habanero that can be customized to your preferred spice level. The result is a margarita on holiday in Bologna, something so uniquely delicious, words don't suffice.
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Pfeiffer's servers seem to care about her food as much as she does. They can tell you the terroir of the restaurant's private-label pinot noir, and about the chimichurri-like chermoula served with the Moroccan-charred ribs. At a time when the industry is struggling to find and keep staff, Bar Tulia Mercato's employees feel genuinely invested — a warmly welcoming vibe that must start at the top to trickle down so effectively.
They bring meatballs cushioned by sunny-yellow polenta. And buttery prosciutto di Parma draped alongside Sugar Kiss melons sweet as candy. They may follow with wood-fired pizzas, or fresh garganelli pasta shaped like little ears, or steak frites finished with a marrow bone — that is, if you're looking for something larger and not just a delicious deluge of snacks.
Such constant perfection comes at a price.
That's a $48 steak frites in front of you. The artichokes are 20 bucks. This reflects not just Bar Tulia Mercato's outstanding service but also the reality locally owned restaurants face these days. They are Davids facing Goliaths, battling for a sliver of the pandemic-bungled global supply chain — and paying a premium to do so.
This is what a good meal costs right now.
But at Bar Tulia Mercato, Pfeiffer and her team take "good" and, like magic, do everything in their power to make it absolutely, positively and delightfully wonderful.
Jean Le Boeuf is the brand under which our restaurant critics have written for more than 40 years. This article came from staff writer Annabelle Tometich. Follow our critics at facebook.com/jeanleboeufswfl or @JeanLeBoeuf on Twitter and Instagram; email firstname.lastname@example.org. Connect with this reporter: email@example.com; @abellewrites (Instagram)
Bar Tulia Mercato
9118 Strada Place, North Naples
Hours: 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday to Wednesday, 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m. Thursday, 11:30 a.m.-midnight Friday and Saturday
Etc.: Full bar, children's menu, outdoor seating available, reservations encouraged, takeout available with online ordering
Brussels sprouts, $12
House ricotta toast, $16
Halibut crudo, $21
Cacio e pepe, $18
Faroe Island salmon, $34
Steak frites, $48
*Hours and prices subject to change
What the symbols mean
$ - Average entree is under $10
$$ - $10-$15
$$$ - $15-$20
$$$$ - $20-$25
$$$$$ - $25 and up