Bulla (“bool-yah” – Spanish) – to be boisterous, to get rowdy
I had my first pinxtos (say “pinch-ohs”) in Bilbao, when Clyde and I were touring the Basque region of Spain. There, each cramped little eatery serves up unique “little bites” — plump shrimp on toast here, fresh local cheese drizzled with olive oil there, Iberian ham on hot bread in the place next door — and the crowd flows freely from bar to bar, sampling wine and paying on the honor system. That pleasant, hours-long lunch is one of my favorite food memories.
Something about the spirt of Bulla Gastrobar (in Midtown, at the intersection of West Peachtree and 11th Street, across the street from RA Sushi and tucked between the Federal Reserve Bank and Burger Fi) recalls the essential spirit of that boisterous, lively foodie experience in Spain. Bulla manages to be urban but warm, cloistered but sprawling, and casual but swanky. Achieving all this while serving artfully-prepared, deeply satisfying food is something to shout about.
John Hannula (of Peachtree Food Tours, Atlanta’s best foodie tour) phoned us up last Thursday to tell us an amazing story: during one of his food tours, the owners of Bulla saw him on the corner with a tour group and — spontaneously, without warning — threw open the doors and treated everyone there to what one guest called “the best blueberry pancakes I’ve ever had.” Better yet, John told me he’d snagged tickets to Bulla’s pre-opening friends and family event … and that Clyde and I were invited to come along for the experience.
So there we were, seated on the patio on a warm September night, nursing berry lemonades and glasses of soda and lime (Bulla had no liquor license yet, though we were assured one was coming in time for the grand opening). Jesus, our server, ferried an incredible array of treats to our table, their order determined strictly by when they were fresh and ready.
There were pinxtos — in this case, chicken skewers drizzled with green salsa criolla and dipped in yogurt sauce. There were piping hot chicken croquettes, gently spiced with creamy kimchi. There were short ribs: tender meat topped with potato foam, onions, and red wine sauce.
For my entree, I chose the salmon — I’m counting Weight Watcher’s points, you know. Listen: this is no ordinary plate of salmon. Is the secret the very judicious drizzle of lemon cream? Whatever the trick, the salmon was, for me, the star of the show (and how often, in Midtown Atlanta, do you get to say that?).
About the time we were falling into food comas, Jesus returned to the table with churros (plus sidecars of dark chocolate and dulce de leche) and flan paired with passionfruit ice cream. And this was my first time to try torrija — in this case, a caramelized brioche bread accompanied by turrón ice cream (a flavor stolen from those almond nougat Christmas treats so popular in Spain) and honey.
Listen: if Bulla can maintain the energy of this preview event — the enthusiastic servers (Jesus, with his joyous grin and encyclopedic knowledge of the menu made our night), engaged senior staff, the quick kitchen — Bulla will be a force to be reckoned with in Midtown’s dining scene.
Every performance like this one comes, of course, with a bill. Our was waived (this was a pre-opening preview, after all), but we were presented with a tab so we could see what our choices would cost us next time around. Virgin drinks (the blueberry lemonade) run six dollars a glass or so. Small plates look to be between five (for the exquisite pan de Cristal, or ethereal bread, layered with fresh tomato) and eight (for the pinxtos). My salmon topped out at $19.00, the snapper over quinoa at $24.00, and the spare ribs at $27.00. Desserts are right in the sweet spot — eight bucks each.
You know my affinity for “every Monday night dining” — moderately priced restaurants with consistent food and prices that don’t require a special occasion to justify. At these rates, Bulla is just north of my “go there any time” budget. But thanks to Bulla’s “everything should be shared” philosophy, we’ve realized we can drop in, split some croquettes, split that perfect salmon, and even splurge on churros and walk out for a very reasonable price.