November 21, 2014
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Dining Review: Osteria Tulia

Osteria Tulia offers simple Italian cuisine, where handmade pasta is the star.

Vanessa Rogers

Ode to Sicily

Google “Sicilian Cooking” and you’ll learn this centuries-old la cucina povera (peasant cooking) has been passed down from generation to generation. It seems natural for Vincenzo Betulia, former head chef of Campiello, a son of Sicilian immigrants, to return to the island for his first restaurant—Osteria Tulia. And to do it, he brought his family with him. His wife, parents and other family members work with him every day.

Although the meat dishes might be considered the main course, our reviewer suggests indulging more in
the pastas, which are handmade and expertly prepared.

My companion and I—we happily ate our way through Italy a few years ago—couldn’t wait to see if Betulia famiglia fare could match those delicious culinary memories. And if we had learned anything in each city’s ristorantes, it was to never sacrifice a bit of savory pasta to save room for the entrée. Pasta was clearly the star of the show. Meat dishes paled in comparison. This held true at Tulia.

In anticipation of finding some perfect Italian-style pastas (all of Tulia’s pasta is handmade on the premises), my companion chose the stracci ($17)—tender duck slow braised in red wine over flat strips of al dente stracci pasta. Simply delicious. I opted for the linguine and Pine Island clams ($18) in white wine with pancetta and a shaved Parmesan garnish. I was initially skeptical about the pancetta, and with good reason: The pasta was extremely salty. Our attentive server, Dominika, checked in with us as soon as we tasted our selections, immediately offered to replace mine with a fresh dish, and wisely suggested serving the pancetta on the side. My newly minted pasta was perfect. The sauce was a delicious blend of white wine and garlic flavored with bay leaf and Italian parsley. The clams were delicate and tender.

This was all preceded by the restaurant’s complimentary starters: fresh-baked, crusty artisan bread served with traditional Sicilian caponata—a savory mixture of tender eggplant, tomatoes, onions and other seasonings. We had to curb the urge to devour every bit of it. Two of Tulia’s signature cocktails ($12 each) rounded it out: Fiore—a fruity blend of Absolut Miami, St. Germain, crushed raspberries and limonata; and The Honeybee—slightly tart Cointreau and lemon juice mingled with sweet drizzled honey and handcrafted Comb Honey Vodka.

Chef Vincenzo Betulia and his family have transformed the space into a casual, family- friendly Sicilian restaurant, with classic dishes like linguini with clams.

Knowing we were going to sample both a pasta and meat dish, we chose just one of the many intriguing piattini (small plates) appetizers— caramelized Brussels sprouts ($8)—a mix of sprouts enlivened with a zip of pepper flakes, and sweet house-made fennel sausage. Divine.

After the lovely caponata and bread, piattini and pastas, we decided to share the wood-grilled rack of lamb ($33) with fire-roasted peppers. What we got: four thin, plain, individually grilled lamb chops accompanied by soft vegetables. Definitely disappointing. But the Punto Final Reserva Malbec, Argentina 2011 ($12)—chosen from a decent size list of wines by the glass—was still a smooth accompaniment.

A Sicilian meal would be incomplete without something sweet, so we chose both a traditional and an innovative dessert (both $8). The light, creamy tiramisu was predictably good, but the sweet roasted pineapple slice with toasted pecans, salted caramel sauce with champagne-based vinegar and vanilla gelato flecked with cracked peppercorns (!) was an exquisite taste sensation. My sweet tooth was singing.

 With this ode to Sicily, Chef Betulia and his family have brought a bit of simple Italian cuisine to Naples, and an alternative to some of its more refined neighbors. Once you set foot inside this Italian farmhouse restoration on Fifth Avenue South, you are transported to a traditional village tavern with rustic wood beams, brick walls, vintage wall art and simple, kitchen-style tables and chairs. On a Monday evening, Osteria Tulia was jammed both inside the restaurant and in the ample outside seating area. It would appear that the response is clearly positive.

Betulia gives pineapple an Italian twist, by covering it in salted caramel, champagne vinegar, vanilla gelato and cracked pepper.

 Osteria Tulia

465 Fifth Ave. S., Naples; (239) 213-2073, tulianaples.com

Open daily for lunch 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. and dinner 5 p.m. to close.

Wheelchair accessible. Reservations

 

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