Lexington, KY – When the too-short-lived restaurant A.P. Roots announced in 2010 that they were closing their doors, it came as a blow to this foodie — with a casual and upscale ambiance, full service, and a varied and affordable quality menu, it filled a niche that few restaurants in Lexington do. Fortunately, The Tulip Bistro, which opened in the Romany Road location shortly thereafter, is a strong replacement.
For the most part, the restaurant’s entree selections and price point fall in line with many of Lexington’s long-standing fine-dining restaurants (bacon-wrapped pork tenderloin, filet mignon, braised lamb shank and the three other entree selections are all priced between $18-30). Where the Tulip stands out is with its impressive offering of seafood options and “lighter fare” selections priced $9-15. The lighter fare isn’t really what I would call “light” — strip steak sandwich, croque monsieur classic — but the opportunity to go out to a nice restaurant and order a $10 sandwich for dinner is something that many of the Tulip’s competitors don’t offer.
And the seafood … oh, the seafood. Appetizer selections include Chesapeake Bay oysters, served on the half shell, Rockefeller style or with fried green onion aioli ($18-21 per dozen); steamed Pei mussels (with garlic anise cream sauce, $9); blue crab dip ($10) and a “trio de mer,” which includes a chef’s selection of three seafood selections. With chef Spencer van den Dool, formerly of Midway eatery The Black Tulip, leading the kitchen, the culinary quality control is high, as is the level of professionalism with the serving staff.
On a recent visit, a guest and I went straight for the raw oysters to start; while it took nearly 15 minutes for them to be delivered (the restaurant was quite busy for a Tuesday night), they were fresh, big, cold and worth the wait. Lemon, horseradish, cocktail sauce, crackers and hot sauce all accompanied the plate. For dinner, I ordered the lightest sounding entree — shrimp and linguine, $19 — and my guest toyed between the short ribs ($22) and the bacon wrapped pork ($18), finally deciding on the ribs. It was an excellent choice — they were flavorful, plentiful and fall-off-the-bone tender, served with curry roasted potatoes, fresh green beans, horseradish sauce and au jus. My pasta, too, was delicious, with blackened shrimp, an abundance of mussels, cherry tomatoes, spinach and garlic in a white wine lemon sauce.
Having both started with a salad (which are portioned almost large enough to be a full entree themselves) as well as the oysters, our eyes were ultimately bigger than our stomachs –
a fate all too common when excitement about a menu’s offerings overwhelm the rational senses.
While The Tulip may not be adding any noteworthy innovations to the Lexington dining scene, it is a high quality, fine-dining option in an atmosphere that feels cozier and more relaxed than many other restaurants of its caliber, and one that is especially convenient to diners who aren’t looking to fight for a table — or a parking spot — downtown. Our meal, which included an appetizer, two salads, two entrees and a healthy selection of cocktails, came to $117.50 before tax and tip — pricey, yes, but on par with its competitors, and just as good.