Two Dazzling Meals: Aïoli Bodega Española and Tuli Bistro


It’s easy to get caught up in new-restaurant fever and forget about the more well-established eateries in town that consistently crank out excellent cuisine. But two restaurants that shouldn’t drop off any food-lovers’ list are Aïoli Bodega Española on the corner of L and 18th streets; and bustling little Tuli Bistro on the corner of S and 21st streets.

I recently enjoyed fantastic meals at both restaurants. At Tuli Bistro we devoured a sprightly, refreshing salad of foraged greens, which included crunchy fiddlehead ferns and wild arugula; and a garlicky, pancetta-dotted broccolini and chicken pizza. The whole Mediterranean sea bream, roasted right in front of us in the pizza oven, was wonderfully moist and served simply with melty-soft caramelized onions and fresh vegetables.

The undisputed showstopper of the week was Aïoli’s dazzling Paella Valenciana, served up in a large, sizzling black skillet and crammed full of shrimp, mussels, calamari, chunks of chicken and tender pork spareribs – all atop crusty saffron rice laced with carrots and peas. The dish, prepared for two diners, is one of the best (and most exciting!) entrees on Aïoli’s tapas-dominated menu. The meal was further enlivened by a plate of the kitchen’s warm Portobello de la Moda – a succulent grilled Portobello mushroom topped with olive oil and feta cheese; and the brightly-flavored Betabel salad, featuring beet and orange slices with red onions and olives, all gently tossed in olive oil and fresh citrus juices.