Slices of Life

Homemade salamis infiltrate the menu at Tulio.

If you dine at a country inn in Spain, Italy, or France, chances are you'll find some local charcuterie among the appetizers: sausages cured just down the street, or thinly sliced ham from an animal raised, slaughtered, and cured on a nearby farm. Such delicacies don't necessarily taste better than similar products shipped from elsewhere, but they certainly set a pleasingly down-home note for the meal. Through a series of unpredictable but very fortunate events, Tulio Ristorante suddenly finds itself in the agreeable position of being the exclusive purveyor of some of the most interesting meaty flavors in town. New Orleans native Tom Dunklin originally came to Seattle three years ago to work as the pastry chef at Sazerac, following a stint at Emeril Lagasse's Delmonico; he jumped at the chance to broaden his culinary spectrum, however, when a sous-chef position opened at Tulio due to head chef Walter Pisano's departure to take over the kitchen at Troiani. (Pause for breath.) But after just six months, Pisano bailed and returned to Tulio. Instead of awkwardness arising between them, the old chef and the new sous discovered they were soulmates. While whipping up pastries in public, Dunklin had been trying his hand at curing meats at home: "easy" cures at first, whole cuts like pork loin (lomo) and beef tongue; then on to trickier items like salamis, which require great sensitivity to texture and seasoning for success. By the time Pisano started tasting them, Dunklin's wares were ready for prime time, and now they're to be found throughout Tulio's menu: most obviously atop the house salami and mushroom pizza ($11) but also tucked into a calzone filling, along with sweet basil and hard-boiled egg ($10), and in an appetizer foccacia "stuffed" with Bel Paese cheese and topped with pear-onion jam ($8). There's nothing monochrome about Dunklin's meats; they're cured in classic fashion but seasoned the way you might expect of a chef with pastry in his curriculum vitae. Depending on when you visit, you may detect a whiff of lavender and fennel or ancho chili, coffee, and chocolate along with the customary red pepper. Lovers of that much-neglected meat, beef tongue, will revel in the deep red of the tongue wrapped in a spicy salami overcoat, and in the butterfly-shaped slivers of Dunklin's tight-tied, three-month-cured tongue, which drying and aging have purged of any trace of the mushy texture that puts many off fresh tongue. Pisano hasn't been afraid to slip Dunklin's savory salamis into dishes where you might not expect to find them: halibut with spinach, salami, and Meyer lemon preserves, anyone? But the best way to experience their full variety is to order the house-cured meat platter ($10), with its side of roasted olives. Available, like the pizza and foccacia, on the "bistro" (between-meal/bar) menu as well as at lunch and dinner, it's an ample introduction for two. Depending on the day, you may find hot (spicy) coppa and mild cotechino along with selections aforementioned. Whatever its offerings, you'll find it a palate- enlivening warm-up for tweaked Italian classics like black-truffle fontina risotto ($15), grilled ahi à la puttanesca ($19), crispy duck with spelt and figs ($23), or lavender leg of pork with saffron potatoes ($19). (Consider splitting an order of sausage and broccoli pasta, $14, beforehand.) Currently Dunklin is producing 120 pounds weekly of various salamis (40 pounds a week of coppa alone) in a room dedicated to his art. The only downside for the consumer is that due to health regulations, his work is to be tasted only at Tulio. But that suits Tulio just fine. And if you're planning to attend Taste Washington this year (see www.tastewashington.org), at least you can visit the restaurant's stand, where the chefs will be dispensing freshly stuffed truffled deviled eggs with a hot coppa wrap. Tulio, 1100 Fifth Ave. (in the Vintage Park Hotel), 206-624-5500, DOWNTOWN. Breakfast and lunch 7–10 a.m. and 11:30 a.m.– 2:30 p.m. Mon.–Fri., 8 a.m.–2:30 p.m. Sat.–Sun.; dinner 5–10 p.m. Sun.–Thurs., 5–11 p.m. Fri.–Sat. www.tulio.com.

 
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