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Tulip Pasta and Wine Bar serves delicious Italian food in an unassuming corner of residential Fishtown. This isn’t another boring red sauce jawn. It’s fresh, modern Italian-inspired cuisine paired with local PA wines. And it is one of the most fashionable restaurants in the city right now.
There’s something magical happening at the corner of Tulip and Norris in Fishtown. With a simple yellow façade and basic lettering, this looks like another unremarkable neighborhood restaurant hanging on through the perennial hard times of the River Wards. The steady stream of patrons through the door undermines that assessment.
Inside, it is a whole different story. Servers run bowls of heaping pasta quickly to tables, where they are eagerly devoured by casually dressed couples out for a relaxing meal. It really feels like a destination date-night restaurant, but priced like a local neighborhood joint. And it’s one of the best dining spots in Fishtown right now.
One of the secrets at Tulip is that the restaurant is actually owned by Wayvine Winery & Vineyard out in Chester County. They own the space as a tasting room, allowing them to serve Pennsylvania wine (which happens to be their own, a nice monopoly for them) as well as beers and ciders from the Keystone State. It’s a brilliant workaround for Pennsylvania’s impossibly antiquated liquor laws.
I know what you’re thinking: ‘Oh no, Pennsylvania wine.’ And I do understand it. However, the wine is much better than any other PA wine we’ve ever had. If you didn’t know it was local, it wouldn’t even register in your consciousness. Now nobody is going to confuse the sauvignon blanc here with a nice Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, but it is a nice tasting wine. The blended white, The Heron, might be the best of the bunch.
While the Wayvine winery owns the space, Ampere Hospitality, under Jason Cichonski of Attico and Messina Social Club fame, runs the culinary program. And that food is remarkable.
In the kitchen, you’ll find the leadership of Chef Alexander Beninato, formerly of Laurel. Beninato has created a masterful menu of Italian-inspired light bites and pastas.
The biggest seller on the menu and the dish you’ll see on every single table is the homemade stracciatella. A bowl of delicious stracciatella cheese topped with a peach mostarda (jam) and herbs accompanied by a large, fresh baked focaccia.
A popular dish for couples to share is the local tuna crudo – delicate slices of tuna with green strawberry and citrus juices. It seems that crudo is the trendy dish of the moment and restaurants are all rushing to put raw fish on the menu. But this is one of the best examples we’ve sampled in the city lately.
But the sleeper appetizer on the menu is the fried cauliflower. It came highly recommended by our server and she wasn’t wrong. The cauliflower is good, but the pecorino wiz is a mind-blowing experience. This is the wiz we want for cheesesteaks! But here it is for dipping your favorite veggie.
The pasta sizes vary wildly at Tulip. The braised beef agnolotti has delicate little pasta rolls filled with braised beef and local cheese. It’s the smallest (and most expensive) pasta on the menu. After three appetizers, we didn’t mind the smaller portion, but guests should know it isn’t filling.
On the other end of the spectrum, the gemelli & local peas is one of the largest portions on the menu. Gemelli (meaning “twin” in Italian), is a long twisted pasta strand that is folded back on itself. It holds sauces very well and perfectly held the flavors of summer peas and ricotta. Add in a savory, bacony goodness of the guanciale and you’ve got an instant classic.
The strawberry and elderflower panna cotta is the perfect conclusion to an Italian night out. It’s great for sharing.
Stepping through the oversized door at Tulip, you come face to face with the kitchen. There’s seating for 10 in the front room, plus four at the chefs table. But the room is dominated by the kitchen where the culinary artisans created masterpieces every night.
Walking down a small hallway, you begin to feel like you’re in someone’s home. In the back room, what might have been a bedroom, there’s seating for 20 at a handful of tables, plus a turquoise-colored banquette. The exposed brick walls are painted white and the original tin ceiling is still in place, now pointed pink. The décor could be described as casual chic.
The vibe is lively but pleasant. It’s possible to have great conversations. And enjoy your wine.
It’s rare in recent years that we’ve been actually impressed by service. Our server was infinitely knowledgeable, exceptionally friendly, and incredibly professional. She made our meal a delight with insightful recommendations and friendly banter.
The appetizers range in price from $12 (grilled garlic scapes) to $18 (local tuna crudo).
The pasta dishes range from $19 (spaghetti alla nerano) to $28 (braised beef agnolotti).
The desserts are all priced at $11.
A couple would likely order two appetizers, two pastas, and a dessert. Our check for two glasses of wine, three appetizers, two pastas, and a dessert came to $146.
Tulip is the impossible-to-obtain reservation of the moment. Reservations drop 30 days in advance at 9am and are snatched up in seconds. It took us over two months to get a table, but it was worth it.
Tulip Pasta and Wine Bar is located at 2302 E. Norris Street in the Fishtown section of the city. Street parking in the neighborhood is impossibly difficult, but try the streets to the north, where we’ve had good luck in the past.
The restaurant is served by bus #25 either one block to the east at Norris and Memphis (southbound on Memphis) or at Norris and Frankford (northbound). Also, buses #5 and #89 can be found at Frankford and Norris. The nearest SEPTA stop is the Berks station on the Market-Frankford Line, a short 5-10 minute walk away.
Visit the Tulip Pasta and Wine Bar website for more information.