Tulip Noir: Garden fresh bistro fare 

When a family-owned ethnic restaurant opens, local critics tend to go easy. Reviews aren't always as kind to small American bistros.

Maybe it's too easy to compare their dishes to our own cooking. Maybe most of these operations are too seat-of-the-pants, and don't have enough help or organization to correctly execute exacting tastes and vision when diners come filing in.

This is not the case at 86th Street's new Tulip Noir. The salads, soups and brunch offerings may well be in some home cooks' repertoires, but likely not with the same ingredients.

You can tell Tulip has at least won the popular vote by its pregnant palish green interior, filled to the brim even as the lunch hours wane. Many lunchgoers are well-dressed women with perfectly coiffed extremities and designer shoes. A businessman or two and male retiree will sometimes dot the sea.

Tulip Noir's fare is healthy. That's part of the point here: Proprietor Dina Romay-Sipe, an interior designer by trade, opened the restaurant to give people a place to eat healthy, wholesome food away from home. By her definition, that means working with as many organic ingredients as possible, and whipping them into lower fat, lower sugar meals. Options abound for those on "Specific Carbohydrate Diets (demarked 'SCD')," and buzzwords like "natural," "vegan" and "matcha" abound on the menu.

That, however, does not get in the way of good taste.

Sure, the "steak and egg" plate ($10.50) on the weekend brunch menu comes with nontraditional accoutrements: greens, and lean bison instead of steak. But this moist, tender meat was exemplary for its breed. (The slightly runny fried egg's yolk certainly didn't hurt.)

And the salad. I know, I know, greens and veggies tend to need sweating, buttering or soufflé-ing to elicit the awe usually reserved for slow-cooked proteins or desserts. But Tulip's chicken and potato salad ($10.25) approaches comfort food. The tangy, homemade orange vinaigrette and walnuts manage to marry the garlicky chicken and savory roasted potatoes seamlessly, without hitting the jarring note of some savory-sweet salads.

If your wallet is thin, consider just ordering a side. Sure, they're pretty small, but the flavor in the macaroni and cheese ($5) with smoked gouda is nutty, creamy heaven. And the carrot fritters ($5) are so much more than the sum of their parts: carrots, parsnips, Parmesan, onion and thyme with a drizzle of horseradish crème freche.

If there are any complaints about the restaurant, they might have to do with the smallish portion sizes. But that's the point here.

On the Web: A video by Evan Roberts, as Dina Romay-Sipe talks about her food philosophy and when she'll get in on the local food movement.


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