Lula Café is my #1 restaurant in the city. I just realized that I’ve never really written anything in detail about them. With Fall upon us, and the myriad changes at Lula brought on by the opening of Nightwood (sister restaurant in Pilsen), I felt compelled to write this pean to my favorite restaurant.
As you may or may not know, Lula Café has 2 different menus. The café menu carried forth their humble beginnings as a funky neighborhood café. The specials menu continues to feature creative cuisine that made Lula the cult favorite that it is. Both menus champion local farm to table products. I was particularly glad that they are now using City Farm produce. It is a small operation on Clybourn/Division, which has become my alternative if I don’t feel like fighting the crowds at Green City Market. Anyway, on to dinner.
Market salad with chicories, apple, turnip, marcona almonds, fiore sardo, and goat milk yogurt dressing
So this salad was sort of unusual for Lula. On the specials menu, they are usually either very composed or deconstructed. With this market salad, everything was tossed together. Escarole, endive, shaved Nichols farm apples, turnips, marcona almonds spiced with ginger and cinnamon, currants pickled in anise and coriander. The dressing is Swan’s Creek goat’s milk made into yogurt in the kitchen. To top it all off, a generous shower of Fiore Sardo (a Sardinian goat’s cheese) shreddings. The greens were crunchy; fruits and nuts were crunchy or spiced in autumn flavors; dressing was tangy and grassy; and the cheese smoky and rustic. It was damp and cold outside, but the salad made it all go away.
Late summer tomato bisque with smoked trout, pickled green beans, currant tomatoes, and brioche
Tomatoes from City Farm were either roasted, or smoked, and pureed with cream. Accoutrements included smoked Rushing Waters trout, pickled Nichols farm green beans, tiny currant tomatoes the size of bubble tea tapioca balls, and house-made toasted brioche croutons. The bisque was earthy; fish smoky; green beans tangy; and again, wiped away all the damp and cold outside. Oh, and the currant tomatoes exploded as you bite into it. It’s like little bursts of sunshine.
Lake trout with sweet potato pommes anna, caramelized broccoli, chorizo, and px sherry vinaigrette
The Lake Superior trout was pinkish, and very meaty. When they brought the plate, I didn’t think it was trout because of the way the fillet was cut. It was roasted in butter, chorizo, and garlic. The pomme anna had layers of sweet and wax potatoes cooked in a celery root and pear butter (in place of regular butter as the traditional French recipe calls for). The fish sat on top of browned broccolini, and on the flip side, was topped by a salad of beauty heart radishes, caperberries, and chorizo in a sherry vinaigrette. It was such a colorful and flavorful dish. Also, the trout definitely stood up to the heartier than usual flavors. Magnificent.
Heritage pork with shell beans, hazelnut butter, pancetta, and brussels sprout choucroute
Pork shoulders from Gunthorp Farm is cured in caraway, thyme, and garlic. It is roasted, and then turned into a roulade with a stuffing made of red cabbage, dried cherries, and hazelnuts. Fresh shelled cranberry beans were cooked in hazelnut butter. A choucroute of brussel sprouts, currants, and pancetta cooked in a mélange of seasonings (including gin). The pork was salty and sweet; the beans and veggies had pops of nutty flavors; and crispy pancetta, well, what else can one say about crispy pancetta?
2008 Couly-Dutheil “Les Chanteaux” Chinon Blanc
With all the strong, earthy flavors and fall notes of the dishes, we decided on a French white as a counterpoint. It was a bold move approved by Lula’s wine goddess. Honeysuckle, stone fruits, Loire soil. I don’t normally go for chenin blancs, but this was a great choice. The wine was creamy, viscous, and bold.
Dark chocolate gianduja torte with salted caramel butter cream and Frangelico ice cream
Gianduja is perhaps gussied up nutella, my favorite sweet spread in the world. I’m generally not a dessert person though, but this was my niece’s birthday. The torte was dense and studded with chopped hazelnuts. The salted caramel butter cream breaks up the density, complemented by the luscious Frangelico ice cream.
Frangelico is one of my favorite digestives. But I decided it was overkill, as we were all beginning to turn into Chip & Dale and sprout cute little furry tails. A nice sherry though rounded out the evening perfectly.
BTW, every Halloween, Lula completely transforms itself into a different restaurant. One night only. The restaurant itself is playing dress up. Always so much fun anticipating what they will turn out to be. Can’t wait for Halloween.