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Friday, June 4, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Dining Deals

Music to the ears, not the palate

Special to The Seattle Times

Tula's Restaurant and Jazz Club


2214 Second Ave., Seattle; 206-443-4221

Mediterranean/American

$$

Web site: www.tulas.com

Hours: 3 p.m.-midnight Sundays-Wednesdays, 3 p.m.-1 a.m. Thursdays-Saturdays; no minors after 10 p.m.

Full bar / credit cards: AE, D, DC, MC, V / smoking in bar only / no obstacles to access / cover charge variable.

Rating: not recommended.

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What Dimitriou's Jazz Alley is to big-name jazz acts, Tula's is to local ones. Everything about the place is lower-key, from its modest Belltown storefront to its folksy menu.

This lack of pretension works beautifully if what you're after is an authentic musical experience. For nine years, proprietor and jazz aficionado Mack Waldron has run his club like a salon for the cream of the local-jazz crop, giving them a stage on which to perform and — on Sunday nights — a place to jam.

I went to hear my friend, a budding jazz vocalist, perform the other night, and was enchanted by the quality of the sound and the dedication of the house. A far cry from its classy earlier incarnation as La Rive Gauche restaurant, the space looks like a basement — underadorned gray cinder-block walls — but this provides a measure of bohemian cachet. Besides, all eyes are on the wedge-shaped stage, which runs the length of the room across from the bar.

And all ears, of course, are amply satisfied. As for all palates, well, that's another story. To be frank, one gets the clear impression that food is an afterthought at Tula's — a supporting act for the bar, which, in turn, is a supporting act for the entertainment. Fair enough. Not every restaurant has to aim for culinary greatness.

But every diner should know what they're getting. So don't expect much finesse or nuance on Tula's long menu of standards and eastern Mediterranean dishes. They wisely offer more than a dozen appetizers, of which you would do well to choose the very solid hummus and tzatziki plate, and about two dozen sandwiches, burgers, pastas and entrees.

Quality is hit or miss, service genuine but way overburdened, wine knowledge scant. So even if it's not particularly commendable as a restaurant — it sure is a dandy place to hear music.

Check please:

Greek combo: Notably dilly tzatziki, puddled with beautiful oil, was the star of this appetizer plate. It was lush, slathered on quarters of warm, pillowy pita bread. The garlicky hummus was also fine. Accompaniments included tomatoes, pepperoncinis, lettuce and Kalamata olives, adding up to a terrific pecking platter and the best dish we encountered here.

Balsamic salmon: A disappointing plate, featuring overcooked fish and soulless accompaniments (saffron rice, broccoli).

Greek chicken salad: Big chunks of moist and savory grilled chicken mingled with feta cheese, tomatoes, Kalamatas, cucumbers, red onions and lemony greens. It made for a fine, if uneventful, gambol.

Mud-pie ice-cream cake: Duller than Sara Lee, I'm sorry to report.

Itemized bill, meal for two

Greek combo $8.00

Balsamic salmon $17.00

Greek chicken salad $12.00

Mud-pie ice-cream cake $6.00

Tax $3.78

Total $46.78

Kathryn Robinson: kathrynrobinson@speakeasy.net

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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