41 E. Main St. Bay Shore, NY 631-539-7183
A pillow-strewn banquette runs along one wall of Tula Kitchen, adding to the Mediterranean ambience. Hummus, baba ghanoush and tofu are vegetarian choices; seafood and chicken are also served, but no red meat.
A pillow-strewn banquette runs along one wall of Tula Kitchen, adding to the Casbah-like ambience of this atmospheric new Bay Shore dining spot. In keeping with the mood of the scarlet candlelit room, chef-owner Jackie Sharlup offers a few Mediterranean-style dishes. Overall, however, the fare is more the kind of eclectic potpourri one would expect to find near a progressive college campus. While Sharlup does serve chicken and fish, red meat is notably absent from her vegetarian-friendly table. For those who prefer soy to sirloin, that amounts to good news.
The menu is divided into three somewhat confusing headings -- "front," "center" and "alternatives," which I assume to mean appetizers, main courses and miscellaneous items. I found it best to think out-of-category. For even the most devoted vegetarian might want more to pick from than the limited roster of salads that constituted "fronts." A toss of baby greens with goat cheese, roasted beets, cherry tomatoes and toasted walnuts was dressed with a maple balsamic vinaigrette. I liked it. But a chunky avocado and tomato salad over mixed greens, while good, amounted to a variation on the same tart, astringent theme. So did a composition of roasted asparagus, string beans, feta, cannellini beans, red onions and chopped tomatoes in a red wine vinaigrette. It was just too many tomatoes, too much vinegar.
From the "alternatives" listed at the end of the menu, I ordered, as an appetizer, the Mediterranean "spread" for two. It featured a Greek salad, fresh feta cheese, a mound of very good hummus (to be slathered on pieces of hard toasted pita) and -- my favorite -- a light, flaky, verdant spinach pie. That pie, if you ask me, could easily go solo as a starter. I found solace in a tempeh reuben sandwich, which utilized the fermented soybean product with sauerkraut and Jarlsberg cheese (vegan Swiss also was available) to a surprisingly successful end. Tofu veggie "crab" cakes, which tasted more like matzo meal latkes, weren't bad -- one just shouldn't expect them to resemble seafood.
Real fish made a salutary appearance in the main course of crisp, savory salmon cakes. These were baked, not fried, and came with a spicy remoulade and a lively -- and chunky -- Asian slaw. I was won over by the seared tuna, which came rare, as ordered, with a piquant wasabi dipping sauce, mashed potatoes and seared baby bok choy. A friend scarfed down his coconut- and Brazil nut-crusted tilapia, which I thought pleasingly sweet. It, too, was served with mashed potatoes and some fine roasted broccoli.
I heartily enjoyed a bowl of al dente rigatoni topped with grilled jumbo shrimp, spicy tomato salsa and shaved Parmesan. But balsamic salsa Parmesan baked chicken over baby greens was downright weird -- overcooked and acidic. Enough with the balsamic and tomatoes! Sharlup redeemed herself with an herb-scented homestyle turkey meat loaf -- big, airy slices with brown onion gravy and root vegetable pancakes.
For dessert, a "tulamisu" made for an odd variation on the more traditional tiramisu. Here, tangy yogurt was used in place of mascarpone, reducing the fat and calories, along with much of the lush appeal of the classic. Far better was the "dream bar," a rich layering of shortbread, praline and coconut. The crowning touch was French-pressed coffee, an intense and gratifying treat.
In Sanskrit, the word "tula" means "balance." With a few tweaks here and there, Sharlup has what it takes to bring her menu into the kind of harmony that will appeal to a broader audience. Even a confirmed meat and potatoes eater can be won over by really good spinach pie.
-Reviewed by Joan Reminick, 7/7/06