If you need a place on the UWS that isn’t brunch, cookies, or over the top fancy, your options are somewhat limited. Luckily, Tolani is on 80th and Amsterdam to fill that girls-night-out void.
It’s a South African influenced wine bar with a dark, cool vibe that is sexy enough for a date but elegant enough to take the parents for brunch. with a hefty by the glass list as well as an extensive selection of Pappy Van Winkle bourbons. Better yet, it has a food menu. Not just bar food, but real sharing plate, restaurant food. The kind of food that makes you salivate just looking at it but that doesn’t require a foodie degree to enjoy. Catch my drift:
Tuna carpaccio with olives, fried garlic, and arugula
An interesting, savory take on tuna tartare. The tuna is paper thin, reminiscent of beef carpaccio but with an even more velvety texture. The garlic is crispy and a little spicy and the olives provide a Nicoise-esque punch of salinity. This is light and a great way to start the evening.
Best dish of the night, hand down. This taco is so far superior to many other grilled fish tacos in town. The grouper is meaty but mild, perfect for its spicy (but not overly so) tomatillo salsa. Crispy cabbage, buttery avocado, and a quick spritz of lime all complete the package in a warm corn tortilla. It’s juicy, crispy, spicy, and fresh…all of the things that make Mexican food great. Best of all, it’s simple. It relies on awesome ingredients so here isn’t any weird crema or nouveau wrap to muck up the clean tastes of the food. There is only one to an order here, so be sure to order enough for the table.
Lamb, beef, and veal meatballs with ricotta
Delicious and so satisfying on a chilly night. The meatballs are spicy and robust, with the lamb bringing out some earthy flavors. The sauce is long cooked and sweet; richer and more wine-y than light summer sauces. A sprinkling of salty Parmesan cheese and some creamy ricotta make this more of a stew than a meatball. Be sure to ask for more warm bread to sop up the delicious sauce. African bread pudding
I don’t know what makes this African, but it’s delicious – like a deep-fried bread pudding with a spongy texture. Crispy, light,a nd positively soaked in a thick vanilla-y creme anglais.
Tolani is well priced with excellent service and really good food! The portions are tiny, so don’t take big eaters here, but there’s a great happy hour and the food is really worthwhile. Finally, a place on the UWS that fits the bill for a relaxed night out on the town.