Bread & Tulips

| September 11, 2012

There is an old, Italian belief that hospitality is like the ideal combination of bread and tulips – sustenance and beauty.  It is the way your mother cooks your favorite meal when you come to visit and makes sure your bedroom looks just the way you left it, years ago.  It’s the way a new relationship provides not only companionship for the people involved, but also romance and passion.  It’s that little piece of magic from one person to another that makes them feel welcome; it’s what makes them feel, “at home.”

When I first heard about Bread & Tulips, a new Italian place on 365 Park Avenue South, I knew I had to go.  What’s more, is, I knew exactly whom I would want to take with me.  He was the one that got away.  A passionate Italian native, he had left years before, across the Atlantic Ocean, and had taken my young heart with him.  Years later, I could still reminisce about how our time together had indeed felt like home, encompassing the entire essence of bread and tulips.

And there we were; sitting at a corner table in the sub-level dining area of the restaurant, dimly lit and unabashedly romantic, the way only a truly authentic Italian place can be.  I noted the antique-style tables, exposed brick walls and wine bottles that dotted the wooden partition of the bar-area like juicy grapes on a grated vine.  I felt immediately as if I were in a Tuscan villa, waiting on Nonna to kiss me hello, and exclaim how thin I’d become over a plate of biscotti.

“You look wonderful, bella.  So grown-up.”  I hoped he could not see me blush in the candlelight from our table, and inwardly chastised myself for blushing in the first place.  “Shall we eat?” I replied; and eat, we did.

To start, we ordered an appetizer of house-made organic ricotta with mint, Aleppo, Arbequino olive oil, and grilled foccacia bread.  There are many people who would fight to the death over what makes good bread (and Italians are certainly no exception), but I don’t think there would be much room for argument regarding Bread & Tulips’ grilled version.  It was divine: a crunchy, chewy, feathery-light and slightly smoky gift of sustenance, especially when paired with the smooth Arbequino olive oil.  The ricotta, paired with the mint, was superb.  The creaminess of the house-made cheese and crunch of the lightly grilled foccacia created a texture combination that made the dish completely unforgettable.

Sharing bread led to sharing memories, which led to one thing, followed by another, and then the suggestion of a drink.  Bread & Tulips boasts a pretty impressive wine list, with reds, whites, rosés and sparklings from all around the globe.  They also, however, boast an extremely one-of-a-kind cocktail menu, with beautifully handcrafted beverages made from only the freshest of in-season and organic ingredients.  My companion and I decided to order drinks we would not be able to have elsewhere; I chose the Park Avenue Tea (Luksusowa Vodka, Pineapple Iced tea, syrup, lemon, and candied ginger), and he chose the Ultimate Negroni (Beefeater Special Edition, Carpano Antica, and Campari).  The Park Avenue Tea visually resembled a miniature version of its sweet, Southern counterpart, and was truly a delight.  It was delicate in flavor; a surprisingly unabrasive burst of ginger with a hush of pineapple aftertaste. The ginger distinctly coalesced with the fall season, but the light, lemony scent of the drink was a small salute to spring.  The Ultimate Negroni, served ruby red with a slice of orange peel in a martini glass, smelled strongly of blood orange.  It tasted as such, too, but with a spicy bitterness, like the smell of an artisanal candle shop in the fall.  After speaking with the House Mixologist, we learned that the orange peel must be torched before the drink is poured over it in order to release the fruit’s natural oils, bringing a level of freshness to the orange taste that could not otherwise be duplicated.  The level of care and attention to detail that went into every cocktail on the menu was truly remarkable.

The night progressed with the natural ease of people who have known each other for years.  The food was exquisite, the service accommodating and the atmosphere inviting, so we did the next logical thing that came to mind; we ordered more food.  After all, it would be a sin to eat at an authentic Italian restaurant and not order the hand-made pasta.  Bread & Tulips’ trofie, a thin and twisted pasta, was cooked to al dente perfection with a spiced lamb ragu, scallions, pecorino romano and a touch of fresh mint.  Firm, yet giving in texture, the trofie carried a nice little spice  with  its  distinctive  flavor. The  pasta was very
obviously made by hand.  No pre-made pasta can compare to that which is kneaded, rolled into sheets and cut freshly in the house kitchen—nothing.

It was clear by the time the last of the trofie had been consumed we were not yet ready for the night to come to an end.  And so, upon our waitress’ recommendation, we ordered the chocolate and hazelnut dessert.  This dish, quite beautiful at first sight, consisted of a perfect ring of milk chocolate mousse, sitting atop a precise rectangle of hazelnut sauce.  Three gianduja crisps, the crowning glory, sat vertically on the ring to form a crunchy triangle.  To top it all off, confectioner’s sugar was lightly dusted over everything.  All of this visual grandeur, however, paled in comparison to the dish’s taste.  The dessert completely caught me off-guard, something that rarely happens when chocolate is involved.  Bread & Tulips had produced fantastic cuisine throughout the evening, and even knowing the dessert would be good, I had not expected it to be half as tasty as it was.  It was unlike any mousse I’d ever had: creamy and cool, yet light at the same time, and balanced by the crunch of the gianduja crust. I would liken the texture and taste of the dessert to a Toblerone candy bar, but much more refined and with better ingredients.

My companion and I polished off the chocolate and hazelnut dish, reveled in our good fortune and laughed like children over the loveliness of the evening.  “Bella,” he said, drawing closer, “you are a part of me.  To not have you in my life would be like cutting off my own hand.”

“I love you too.”

“Um, thanks, Katie, but are you ready to go inside yet?”

“Huh?”  I dazedly came out of my reverie, glancing up to see my good friend Vanessa, as we stood outside of the entrance of Bread & Tulips.  The reality of the situation settled in and I smiled at the thought of my bittersweet daydream.  It had been beautiful for a moment, and that was enough.  “Yes,” I replied, “Let’s go inside.”