Tiptoe, through the Tulip…

For several weeks now, my friend Alison has been raving about and recommending I try this new cafe called Tulip Noir on 86th Street. When another friend said she’d been there this week and it was great, I decided I’d waited long enough. Hubby and I finally made it up for lunch the other day and I’m pleased to report it IS all that.

The cafe is located in an old My Favorite Muffin joint, but it bears no resemblance to anything so pedestrian or cookie-cutter now. The place has been gutted and is now dressed in shades of calming blues and greens. It’s so clean, it almost feels sterile. Not that this is a bad thing when you’re in a dining establishment. It’s more clean and pristine in a Japanese Zen kind of way – not exactly cozy, but still very soothing and comfortable at the same time.

Tulip Noir is only open for breakfast and lunch. There’s not a ton of seating, so I figured it might be hard to get a table after a rave review published in the current issue of Indianapolis Monthly, but we got there around 1 p.m. and were led to a table immediately, no waiting. They were also very gracious about accommodating us with a high chair, as we had baby in tow.

The first thing my husband noticed was that he was the only man in the place. There definitely is a feminine vibe here; it’s a perfect place for ladies who lunch, especially rich, Carmelite ladies judging from the looks of the clientele. (I predict this place will be packed to the gills on Mother’s Day…)

The owner of Tulip Noir, a former interior designer, has obviously put a lot of thought and creativity into her cafe, and the menu choices reflect her careful attention to detail as much as the decor does. The menu changes seasonally, and all items are organic with a health-conscious spin. This is not to say there is any skimpage on flavor. Au contraire, mon frere. Think Omega-3 egg omelets with spinach, tomato, salsa and cumin; rosemary pepper bacon strips; mini whole-wheat “pan-cakeys” with almonds, bananas, powdered sugar and honey; and a breakfast salad with greens, strawberries and pecans in a citrus vinaigrette. And that’s just the breakfast menu. For lunch, you can choose from soups and salads (every last bite made in-house right down to the fresh dressings); grilled paninis, salads and a whole-wheat veggie quesadilla with avocado sauce.

I was tempted to try to the asparagus mushroom crepe with goat cheese, and the broccoli cauliflower fritters with gorgonzola creme fraiche also caught my eye, but I couldn’t resist ordering the grilled peanut butter sandwich on whole wheat with apple slices and crystallized ginger. It arrived all melty and gooey, as any good grilled sandwich should, with peanut butter oozing out the sides at every bite. It was good, but it could have used a little heavier hand with the apple and ginger. Most bites, all I could taste was P.B. I also got a little bit of mixed green salad alongside my sandwich. I thought fruit might have gone better with the peanut butter, but I wasn’t unhappy with the greens – they were very fresh and the slightly sweet acidic vinaigrette actually cut through the heaviness of the peanut butter quite nicely.

Hubby ordered the lemon garlic chicken ciabatta sandwich with dill, provolone cheese, tomato and avocado sauce; and a side of the same salad that I got. He pronounced it all very tasty.

To drink, we ordered off the fairly extensive tea menu, which breaks down options by caffeine content. There’s also a small selection of coffees, along with spritzers, smoothies and lemonade. I chose a Relaxation Blend tisane, a caffeine-free mix of chamomile and mint leaves that’s steeped just like a tea. In a terribly anti-Irish move, hubby ordered the Old Black Magic coffee, but I promise not to tell his family back home.

Again, no detail is forgotten here. We each received a small taste of the tea of the day – the tropical fruity “I Dream of Maui” – in tiny ceramic cups. When the tea and coffee were delivered to the table, each still brewing in its own small pot and French press respectively, the server also dropped off a ticking electronic egg timer so we’d know exactly when our quaffs had reached the optimal degree of flavor before pouring. Nice. Very nice.

There’s also a really cool tea bar (not a coffee bar, a TEA bar) that looks like something out of Star Trek – a funky modern halfmoon of seats where diners can be fussed over as they watch the mystical concoctions being prepared before their very eyes.

Throughout the meal, our server struck just the right chord – friendly and welcoming without being oversolicitous or insincere.

I wished we’d saved room for dessert. Next time. And there definitely will be a next time.

Tulip Noir, http://www.tulipnoircafe.com

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