Tuli, Still My Favorite

It was the the best of meals, it was the worst of meals. That seems to the be the reaction from my circle of friends/food enthusiasts whenever we get to talking about Tuli. The little joint on 21st and S seems to raise some heartbeats and some hackles each time it comes up in conversation. (What the hell is a hackle anyway? Oh, that’s right, I’m online, I could just look it up.)

First, the negative, as reported by several of my more trustworthy friends: the service can be maddeningly sparse and slow and cold; the outdoor seating is less than lovely and, since it comprises the majority of available seating, is frequently the only option available, even in the winter months; food orders, while delicious (there’s never an argument about whether the food is good, mind you) come out haphazardly, or in the wrong order, or never at all. Got it? This is all a pretty frequent meme in the “I hate Tuli and am never going back” camp.

Don’t get me wrong, I think this opinion is valid based on others’ experiences. Yet, I love Tuli, absolutely, unreservedly love it. I have never had a bad meal there, never felt like I was getting the short end of the skewer, never came away not glowing. I dropped by there this week for my birthday dinner and couldn’t have been more satisfied. My lovely companion and I supped full on potato/cauliflower soup, fig and prosciutto salad, mussels, and pork cheeks on a bed of watermelon radishes. Everything was stunningly good, lick the plate good, adjust your pants good. The service was polite and warm. The food came out at a leisurely pace, sure, but it was a date night on a Monday on the first fall-feeling day of the year, and we were tucked in at the counter next to a roaring brick oven chatting with the cooks and having ourselves a grand time. Leisurely was exactly what we were looking for.

So, what’s the trick? Why do so many people wash their hands of Tuli while I hold it in highest esteem? I think it’s two things. 1) I always sit at the counter. It’s warm and lovely and convivial. You never feel like you’re waiting for your food because you get to watch it being cooked. Chatting with the chef, the cooks, the servers, makes for a fun evening. In comparison, sitting in the climatically unreliable patio, twiddling your fingers and waiting for your food to come out sucks.

2) I rarely, if ever, go on a weekend. Trying to fight for seats at the tiny eatery isn’t worth it. It’s frustrating and disorganized.

So, following these two simple rules, you too might come to love Tuli. Or it might forever remain, like that stray cat you adopted that will only sit in your lap and let you pet it or feed it or talk to it and whenever anyone else tries it hisses and bites and scratches, my own private treasure.

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3 thoughts on “Tuli, Still My Favorite”

  1. I wanted to hard to love it, and the food was so good, but the horrible distracted service, being seated at a 2-up way in the back by the restrooms while the staff giggled over cartoons on someone’s laptop, never bringing bread or water … sorry. I can get that kind of attention at home, no need to pay for it.

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  2. Does anyone know what happened to Tuli’s former pastry chef? The one who made the unbelievably amazing key lime and banana cream pies with the best crust ever?

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  3. Couldn’t agree more. Hang out at the counter and chat up the chefs and get to know the wait staff a bit – it’s a great experience. And yes, the food is consistently top drawer!
    We miss Chef Jeff but the food remains creative and spot on flavor wise.

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