1100 Fifth Avenue
Seattle WA 98101
By: Steve G
Tulio is a Spanish-derived name that means lively, but when you step into Tulio Ristorante in downtown Seattle, instead of Spanish food, Italian is the specialty at Tulio and what great Italian food it is. Located across the street from the old Federal courthouse, it's a great spot to grab a bite to eat before catching a show at the 5th Avenue Theater or Benaroya Hall. With a variety of fresh ingredients and delectable menu items, you're sure to find something that strikes your fancy.
Though tightly packed, Tulio sports a real rustic look that is a change of pace to the wave of modern, po-mo restaurants that are seemingly taking over the downtown area. We're all for a little style at Chef Seattle, but not at the sacrifice of quality and portions. Every time we hear the word, “New York style dining,” we always conjure up images of small portions and even smaller wallets. Tulio has some moderate prices, but the portions can be a bit overwhelming and definitely worth the price.
We had a good experience with the service we received at Tulios the staff seemed very engaged in taking care of the customers. The servers are highly professional; despite the tightly packed tables, they effortlessly weaved through while handling delicious plates of food. The open kitchen allows a view of the chefs, and while they seem to work with a very casual demeanor, one cant help but be in awe of the skill that lets them prepare and serve up such a large volume of food at breakneck speeds.
For starters, we had the Sweet Potato Gnocchi ($9.00), Plate of House Cured Meats and Olives ($10.00), and the Fresh Mozzarella with Pine Nuts ($10.00). Simply amazing, the gnocchi is one of the best appetizers that we've ever had the opportunity to enjoy. Served with sage butter and mascarpone, the gnocchi had a light crunchy shell that covered the very tender center. The rich buttery taste is due in part to the sage butter and the mascarpone is lightly topping each piece.
From slightly rich cured sausage to thin-cut prosciutto, all of the meats on the Plate of Cured Meats had a slight salty edge. It came with about a half a dozen olives and a wide variety of meats. The marinated olives varied in potency, from very mellow to extremely pungent. They were so exceptional in fact, that we found them to be the most enjoyable part of the starter.
Served in a thick ball and garnished with baby tomatoes and pine nuts, the fresh mozzarella seemed very plain at first glance, but turned out to be a great item. Mixing each piece of cheese with the pine nuts, tomatoes and dried currant, this interesting combination created a great surge of flavor. By the time we finished this appetizer, we were looking forward to our entrees.
For the seafood lovers, we highly recommend the Whole Roasted Branzino ($29.00): a roasted sea bass in a tomato cilantro broth served with thick pieces of focaccia bread. Cooked whole, the fish is brought to your plate looking very monstrous, but is de-boned right in front as a special touch. Flaky and moist, the sea bass itself really takes center stage. The light seasoning was peripheral to the perfectly cooked fish. It was so good in fact, that Trish couldn't resist finishing the entire fish.
Hand made and cooked al dente, the Smoked Salmon Ravioli ($16.00) was a subtly smoky affair. Served with asparagus and lemon cream, the smoked salmon ravioli had a great mix of subtly contrasting of flavors. It was a good dish, our only complaint being that the portion was extremely small for an entree.
The Lavender Rack of Pork was some of the best pork that we've ever had. Sadly, it was only available on the 30 for $30 menu, leaving us to wonder if it will ever be featured on the dinner menu. As it came to our table, everyone had a look of complete awe as a massive cut of meat was placed in front of us. Below the gigantic piece of pork was a generous helping of creamy polenta. Not too grainy and quite creamy and soft, the polenta completely changed some our reviewer's opinion on polenta. It was similar to mashed potatoes, but with a richer consistency.
Recommended by our server, the Roasted Chicken was very impressive. Garnished with garlic and rosemary, the dish contained a remarkable number of flavors that seemed to lose their potency as the deeper I got into the chicken. Almost like a tease, the outer layers of the chicken raised our expectations for the entire dish, but the flavor seemed to disappear as I got deeper into the meat.
Reservations are strongly encouraged as this popular restaurant can get very busy on weekends. Tip: If you're heading to a show that night, don't forget to let them know when making your reservation so that you are served promptly at dinner. For parking, complementary valet service is available, but if you don't feel like tipping the valets, a garage is available across the street.
While Tulio's might seem a little bit cramped and short on space, the food is definitely worth the small inconvenience. The fresh ingredients and robust flavors simply outweigh any negatives, in my opinion. With its neighborhood-restaurant appeal and friendly servers, we definitely recommend Tulio's as a spot you do not want to miss.