New York’s SoHo neighbourhood has way too much choice for diners and drinkers. You could wander its grid of local-vibes, lightbulb-strung bars and petite indie restaurants for hours without making a decision on where to chow down. So a local suggestion for a newcomer is always welcome – and ours led us to Bar Tulix, a striped-canopied, sultry and dimly lit number on West Houston.
Our first impression was a distinct party vibe – we sipped superlative, icy margaritas in a packed dining room of pals dipping tortillas into generous sharing big plates. The music was throw-back, early-Noughties R’n’B and hip hop (cue countless “Oh my god, remember this one?” moments of time-travel). A youthful staff is fun and chatty, and talked us through the very long and varied menu.
We dug into what, looking around, appeared to be a fan favourite – the Baja Guac. A rustic bowl of smushed avocado, sour cream, salsa verde and coriander, it’s pepped up by a drizzle of oil made from epazote, a native Mexican herb used as a cure-all tonic in the motherland. Dipping palm-sized, crunchy tortillas into this creamy-chilli creation while savouring a margarita set the chilled tone for the night, as we narrowed down what looked most interesting.
The focus here is undeniably seafood, some of it in the form of a “raw bar” section which works through oysters, sashimi and aguachile, all made zingy by Mexican herbs and condiments. There’s even a caviar-smeared seafood platter. Alongside are sizzled-up tuna and prawn tostaditos, large-plate takes on salmon and branzino, and octopus with red lentils, romesco sauce and paprika.
We plump for the Mexican take on shrimp cocktail, a tasty selection of fat prawns served in a pool of spicy habanero mayo; and tuna tostaditos with radish and hibiscus where the freshness of the fish is unfortunately drowned out by both the radish and a scattering of dry spice. We’re similarly unsure about the clam toast, raved about by the staff as a particular speciality – chubby slivers of umami-rich clam have been packed onto a thick hunk of toast, but the overwhelming taste is too salty-fishy for either of us.
Veggies and vegans will enjoy the inclusion of veggie tacos – we try the excellent roasted carrots with coconut almond salsa, but there’s also an asparagus version. Paired up with the heirloom tomato starter and Baja Guac, there’s a nice little selection of meat- and fish-free treats. We’re tempted by the Veracruz salmon, dressed with olives, capers and tarragon, but fill up quickly on the starters and generous portions all round.
Ultimately, Bar Tulix needs to up its execution somewhat in order to compete with Manhattan’s best Mexican restaurants – this is a city of incredible Latin American flavours, served in styles from rustic to high-high end. But seafood and veggie fans, along with anyone looking for lighter plates than the melted-cheese and oil-slicked classics – will love this joint’s creative, coastal spin on what we know this cuisine to be. And we lingered late with our cocktails, soaking up the music and local crowd. If you want atmosphere, this is the place to be.