Sleek granite and a colorful tile backsplash flank the bar and quickly guide your eyes upward to their own little wood burning pizza oven giving a sense of comfort and coziness. On the other side of the bar a meticulously clean and organized kitchen - one such that would strike a mixture of envy and awe into any cook - is coolly patrolled by striking hot chefs (double entendre with clear intent).
Ambient lighting and well planned seating parallel the opposite side of the narrow Napa-style alley corridor to the expansive and surprisingly comfortable outdoor seating. Surprising in that when I visited it was actually raining hard enough that animals were walking down the streets in pairs. They had pulled down the awnings which made it snug, warm and inviting, like the tent of a Arab prince in one of Sheherazade's stories.
Dinner at Tuli has been something I had been waiting for for a long time, and after hearing all the hype I was eager to check it out as soon as possible. Chef Adam Pechal, a local boy, was educated in New York and graduated top of his class. He then moved around the U.S. learning varieties of cooking genres and styles from Fandango restaurant in Seattle to training at Bouchon with Thomas Keller. He then came back to Sac and worked River City Brewing Co. and Ristorante Piatti. Pechal has now been able to open his open place with an eclectic, seasonal, and ever changing menu that demonstrates his finely honed skills.
After being greeted and seated we were guided through the small menu. The menu was small compared to other places but for a reason; the menus for lunch and dinner are different and can change daily based on fresh ingredients, so each visit will be unique, and as such menus are printed on simple everyday paper stock.
The staff seemed on the ball the a bit... hover-y. There seemed to be four people in the kitchen and five on the floor. For a tiny place the staff almost matched the number of patrons, and we were attended to by maybe four different people throughout the night. Not that there was a problem, they were all very bubbly, friendly, knowledgeable, and polite; just an observation on the noticeably large number of staff. Though given, you never need worry about being abandoned, it's just a bother having to constantly pause your dinner coversation.
The Chop Chop salad (finally, someone is playing with the titles of their food again and not just listing it all off) consisted of finely chopped romaine and radicchio with cubes of cucumber, tomato, fennel, and strips of salami all eloquently dressed in a blue cheese vinaigarette. The cucumber and fennel acted as the perfect chilled counterpoints to the smokey blue cheese, and the salami sensibly cut through it all in it's grand saltiness. One of the most well crafted salads I've ever had in Sac.
The humorously named Sleeping Ninja was the biggest hit of the night - tempura fried ahi with jalepeno mayo, mandarin ponzu sauce and watermelon radish salad. The tuna was a bit overdone, but just exploded with flavor due to the mayo and ponzu, with the tempura just adding enough crunch to offer a perfect study in texture. The watermelon radishes were tops and are a personal favorite of mine as I make snacks of them with lemon and mint regularly. Total props.
The Humboldt pizza was good, nothing to write home about but quite shibby. Very Italian-Mediterranean, the arugula pesto lacked the pepper I prefer (though I always prefer it crazy spicy, so that's just me) and it paired well with the nicoise olives and goat cheese and mozzarella and tomatoes. Still, something was lacking to really bind it all. Not sure what, but it was in agreement to those who tried it that while tasty something was missing.
Afterwards, Chef Pechal dropped by and checked up on us and after a delightful little chat we thanked him for the delightful meal and promised to return. In the few short moments, you could tell he was a delightful man and you could see where the spark in the food came from.
Overall, Tuli is a fantastic place. Hip and cool without being oppressively trendy, it's bound to become a cornerstone of the Sacramento dining scene for years to come.
Corner of S and 21st Street
Tuli Bistro's Myspace Page