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Lula Café - I Don't Get It

Lula Café - I Don't Get It
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  • Lula Café - I Don't Get It

    Post #1 - December 5th, 2005, 8:28 pm
    Post #1 - December 5th, 2005, 8:28 pm Post #1 - December 5th, 2005, 8:28 pm
    Tonight, in my effort to check out places nominated for the prestigious GNR Award, I went to Lula Café for dinner. Upon entering, I felt as if I had walked into a time warp and landed in a hippy café in the 60's; the smell of patchouli oil was so thick in the air. Once we negotiated for a decent table with the clueless hostess in the nearly empty café, I noticed that there were no fewer than 9 servers, busboys, cooks and assorted hangers-on milling about the pass-through (not counting the kitchen staff on the other side of the window) gossiping about hair cuts and other nonsense. They were far too busy to deal with the mundane task of bringing us some water and menus, but eventually someone did.

    I found most of the food on the menu to be dishes with a mish-mosh of various ethnic spices thrown together in a haphazard fashion. The waitress eventually came over and asked if we had any questions about the menu and I asked her what the "Tineka Sandwich" was. Her reply, "Oh, that's just the name of the sandwich." No other information was offered. I settled on the chicken, which I remembered as being a recommended dish. It turned out to be a relatively small 1/2 chicken, nicely cooked with perhaps a bit too much rosemary served over a bed of spinach and oven roasted potatoes. It was modestly good, but certainly nothing to write home about. The Chow Poodle ordered Pasta YiaYia, which was a Greek themed dish reminiscent of the way the Aunts in her family prepare pasta...except that it included feta cheese, which is the wrong type of cheese for this traditional dish. Normally it is served with Mizithra cheese (a hard goat's milk cheese similar in texture to parmesan). It was just wrong and she didn't enjoy the dish at all.

    I suppose if I lived in the neighborhood, I might give this place a second try, but as it stands, I won't be in any hurry to go back.
    Steve Z.

    “Only the pure in heart can make a good soup.”
    ― Ludwig van Beethoven
  • Post #2 - December 5th, 2005, 9:20 pm
    Post #2 - December 5th, 2005, 9:20 pm Post #2 - December 5th, 2005, 9:20 pm
    The thing to remember about Lula is to order the specials, rather than off the standard menu. And just accept that the servers are a little "hippy dippy" as Beth put it.
    Ed Fisher
    my chicago food photos

    RIP LTH.
  • Post #3 - December 5th, 2005, 9:31 pm
    Post #3 - December 5th, 2005, 9:31 pm Post #3 - December 5th, 2005, 9:31 pm
    See my post over here.
    JiLS
  • Post #4 - December 6th, 2005, 11:51 am
    Post #4 - December 6th, 2005, 11:51 am Post #4 - December 6th, 2005, 11:51 am
    Upon entering, I felt as if I had walked into a time warp and landed in a hippy café in the 60's; the smell of patchouli oil was so thick in the air.

    Dude, wrong counter-culture. In my experience the Lula staff is much more late 90's early 00's indie rock, Belle and Sebastian, Empty Bottle, Ira Glass endorsed, hipster. There was a period when Kasia F and I went ther a lot and we used to joke that they only had one CD -- a Yo la Tengo record that I love and she hates.

    Seriously, I count myself as a Lula partisan. I agree that the Pasta Yia Yia is not good but everything else we've had has been solid to very good. I have ordered the roast chicken several times and, at its best, it is the best I've had outside of my own kitchen. I have always been pleased that the specials do not drift off into the b---s--- "creativity" that hipster in which restaurants often traffic. The food is generally pretty straight and ingredient driven. The hipster atmosphere can be a little off-putting and I have heard many tales of bad service but have not but we have not experienced it. Maybe we are lucky.
  • Post #5 - December 6th, 2005, 11:57 am
    Post #5 - December 6th, 2005, 11:57 am Post #5 - December 6th, 2005, 11:57 am
    edk wrote:I have heard many tales of bad service but have not but we have not experienced it. Maybe we are lucky.


    Maybe it's that Yo la Tengo t-shirt you always wear to Lula.
    JiLS
  • Post #6 - December 6th, 2005, 11:59 am
    Post #6 - December 6th, 2005, 11:59 am Post #6 - December 6th, 2005, 11:59 am
    gleam wrote:The thing to remember about Lula is to order the specials, rather than off the standard menu. And just accept that the servers are a little "hippy dippy" as Beth put it.


    Au contraire, IMHO. I find that the specials can be a landfield of hits and misses. And when it misses, it misses big, in my experience. I recall once ordering a NY strip special, which I realize now is tough order for a restaurant like Lula that likes to keep its prices down but I had faith (and a steak sounded good at the moment). Two others at my table also ordered it. It was, hands down, the worst piece of gristle I have ever eaten, so much so that trying to get through the dish became comedic. Every bite was preceded by a prolonged sawing of the steak and ensued with the sort of manic chewing as seen by Chevy Chase in National Lampoon's Christmas movie (the scene where they were eating the dry turkey). I thought that it was pretty clear that Lula should have rejected that particular order of meat, or otherwise not have served it, because it was that bad.

    Other specials have been met with more success, although no fireworks. However, when I am there, I stick with the proven winners on their menu- usually a sandwich or the pasta yia-yia or the sweet potato "tagine."

    All in all, I like Lula, but I have to admit that I am in the minority of my acquaintances who have had what they claim to be too many "mediocre" experiences there.
  • Post #7 - October 29th, 2006, 6:49 am
    Post #7 - October 29th, 2006, 6:49 am Post #7 - October 29th, 2006, 6:49 am
    stevez wrote:The Chow Poodle ordered Pasta YiaYia, which was a Greek themed dish reminiscent of the way the Aunts in her family prepare pasta...except that it included feta cheese, which is the wrong type of cheese for this traditional dish. Normally it is served with Mizithra cheese (a hard goat's milk cheese similar in texture to parmesan). It was just wrong and she didn't enjoy the dish at all.

    Steve,

    It's often hard, if not impossible, to satisfy a Heritage Eater such as the Chow Poodle, and frankly, I liked the small taste I had of Lula Cafe's Pasta YiaYia made with feta. That said, having had Pasta Yai Yia* topped with Mizithra cheese, a grating cheese with a distinctive tang, I agree Mizithra is a much better fit with Pasta YiaYia than feta. I'm guessing serving the Greek Chow Poodle Pasta YiaYia with feta is similar to serving me gefilte fish with mustard on the side instead of beet horseradish. :shock:

    I should also note I like Lula Cafe and find it well deserving of it's LTHFourm GNR.

    Enjoy,
    Gary

    *Pasta YiaYia was prepared by the Chow Poodle, and tasted quite delicious.
    One minute to Wapner.
    Raymond Babbitt

    Low & Slow
  • Post #8 - October 29th, 2006, 9:24 am
    Post #8 - October 29th, 2006, 9:24 am Post #8 - October 29th, 2006, 9:24 am
    to this day, i've NEVER gone to lula for anything besides weekday lunch or brunch on the weekends.....always enjoyable, great to bring out of town friends, etc.

    for years i lived over in "west bucktown" (ala california/armitage) & for the past 2 1/2 years, i live directly across the square, so to speak. and yet, i still don't venture there for anything besides the proven winner meals i've had there.

    whether it's the weekly brunch specials, or some great menu stand-bys (tofu scramble, frittata, breakfast burrito, etc.), i rarely find any "misses". honestly, i've read about too many subpar dinner experiences over the years, that i choose to keep my meals enjoyable & not rock the boat.

    cheers!
  • Post #9 - October 29th, 2006, 9:44 am
    Post #9 - October 29th, 2006, 9:44 am Post #9 - October 29th, 2006, 9:44 am
    smellen wrote:to this day, i've NEVER gone to lula for anything besides weekday lunch or brunch on the weekends.....always enjoyable, great to bring out of town friends, etc.

    for years i lived over in "west bucktown" (ala california/armitage) & for the past 2 1/2 years, i live directly across the square, so to speak. and yet, i still don't venture there for anything besides the proven winner meals i've had there.

    whether it's the weekly brunch specials, or some great menu stand-bys (tofu scramble, frittata, breakfast burrito, etc.), i rarely find any "misses". honestly, i've read about too many subpar dinner experiences over the years, that i choose to keep my meals enjoyable & not rock the boat.

    cheers!


    Interesting, smellen, because I'm the exact opposite. I never go there for brunch or lunch, which I find to be generally pretty weak there.

    For me, Lula shines in the surprising fixed-price "farm dinners" and their excellent dinner specials. I've never had a single bad experience in over a dozen visits.

    Best,
    Michael
  • Post #10 - October 30th, 2006, 4:32 pm
    Post #10 - October 30th, 2006, 4:32 pm Post #10 - October 30th, 2006, 4:32 pm
    G Wiv wrote:It's often hard, if not impossible, to satisfy a Heritage Eater

    I think that's very true. Most of us are quite complacent, even intrigued, by innovations to other people's heritage cuisines, but appalled by anyone messing around with our own.

    Nobody can make food the way your grandmother did, and anyone else's attempts are going to be *wrong* -- even if they make it just the way their grandmother did. (So, for example, eatchicago and I have different ideas about the perfect matzo ball.)

    G Wiv wrote:I'm guessing serving the Greek Chow Poodle Pasta YiaYia with feta is similar to serving me gefilte fish with mustard on the side instead of beet horseradish. :shock:

    :idea: But have you tried gefilte fish with wasabi?
  • Post #11 - October 31st, 2006, 5:19 pm
    Post #11 - October 31st, 2006, 5:19 pm Post #11 - October 31st, 2006, 5:19 pm
    Wasabi with geflite fish sounds excellent, but then so does plain horseradish or Dijon mustard. In fact is there anything that does not make geflite fish better? OK, I'll retrack that last question.

    Lula's is one of those restaurants at which it is very easy to order badly. However, I will stick to my previous strategy and advice to the board to only order specials. Ordering a steak there though is not to my mind a prudent choice. In Chicago how many places can stand up to the city's steak standards set by the Gibsons, Mortons, S&Ws and others of the city? I even shied away from a steak at the Chicago Firehouse last Saturday as I rationally or irrationally thought their steakiness to be a tier lower. Le Bouchon, Mon Ami Gabi, Brasserie Jo maybe can take a lesser cut of beef and make a wonderful little steak, but even at the Brazilian steakhouses, the Tango Surs, or El Nandus, how often does the steak (not the other stuff) exceed your expectations?

    The best advice for Lula's is to go for brunch, lunch, or weekdays. At supper salads and specials normally are fine, even great at times. Whenever I go there are always one or two specials that look and usually are very good. In particular look for a special with ingredients that you know are in season or local or quirky-Lula's does well with quirk. If you're a traditionalist, don't order the non traditional version of a standard dish. (My problem with the pasta yia yia is not the taste which I find intriguing, but the relatively small size of the portion.) If you are even a little adventurous, try the twist on a standard. Don't expect the waitstaff to be helpful, it is not just that they don't seem knowledgeable (they don't), it is more a that they just seem indifferent to the food.

    The restaurant does suffer when crowded as I have even had the house standard chicken horribly prepared once on a Saturday. And as with most Chowhound and later LTH favorites, it suffers from comparisons to when it was new and undiscovered, and particularly from those of us who wax nostalgic "If you only knew it when...." As a good local, and now a destination, restaurant Lula's deserves to be on the list not only for what it is, but for what it tries to be.

    But opinions vary-I think LTH the restaurant doesn't belong on the list as I don't think it is even better than average.
  • Post #12 - October 31st, 2006, 6:08 pm
    Post #12 - October 31st, 2006, 6:08 pm Post #12 - October 31st, 2006, 6:08 pm
    MLS wrote:But opinions vary-I think LTH the restaurant doesn't belong on the list as I don't think it is even better than average.

    Now you're just talking crazy :shock:
    One minute to Wapner.
    Raymond Babbitt

    Low & Slow
  • Post #13 - November 1st, 2006, 10:24 am
    Post #13 - November 1st, 2006, 10:24 am Post #13 - November 1st, 2006, 10:24 am
    MLS wrote:Lula's is one of those restaurants at which it is very easy to order badly. However, I will stick to my previous strategy and advice to the board to only order specials. Ordering a steak there though is not to my mind a prudent choice. In Chicago how many places can stand up to the city's steak standards set by the Gibsons, Mortons, S&Ws and others of the city?


    As I was person who ordered the steak that you're referring to as an imprudent choice, I, of course, did not expect it to be great, certainly not on the level of a X Chicago Steakhouse where you're paying a gazillion dollars. Come on. I don't think anyone would expect that.

    MLS wrote:Le Bouchon, Mon Ami Gabi, Brasserie Jo maybe can take a lesser cut of beef and make a wonderful little steak, but even at the Brazilian steakhouses, the Tango Surs, or El Nandus, how often does the steak (not the other stuff) exceed your expectations?


    Exactly. And I, perhaps foolishly, put Lula in the category of those places. Having had faith at that time in the kitchen, I expected to receive a beef that was akin to Le Bouchon, Mon Ami Gabi, etc., where even lesser cuts of beef or lower quality cuts are still prepared quite well. I mean, did everyone's parents regularly serve Gibson's level of beef on their table at home? Not likely. But was it still good? Yes. So I still see some value to ordering beef even when I know it's not going to be sublime. Sometimes that's what you want. And as long as you don't have one level of expectation when it comes to beef, you can do just fine.

    Nevertheless, my problem, however, seemed to be their sourcing -- the beef itself was not even passable.

    Other specials I found to be hit or miss, as are their brunch specials, in my experience. I don't go to Lula expecting something new. Maybe that's why I don't order the specials. I go for what I know they can do well, like roasted chicken or the pasta yia-yia. If I stick to that, then I'm satisfied.
  • Post #14 - November 1st, 2006, 10:29 am
    Post #14 - November 1st, 2006, 10:29 am Post #14 - November 1st, 2006, 10:29 am
    aschie30 wrote:Other specials I found to be hit or miss, as are their brunch specials, in my experience. I don't go to Lula expecting something new. Maybe that's why I don't order the specials. I go for what I know they can do well, like roasted chicken or the pasta yia-yia. If I stick to that, then I'm satisfied.


    Don't forget the cocktails, especially the seasonal ones; I've left Lulu's too, too often unstatisfied, but I do like the drinks.
    Think Yiddish, Dress British - Advice of Evil Ronnie to me.
  • Post #15 - November 1st, 2006, 10:33 am
    Post #15 - November 1st, 2006, 10:33 am Post #15 - November 1st, 2006, 10:33 am
    Vital Information wrote:Don't forget the cocktails, especially the seasonal ones; I've left Lulu's too, too often unstatisfied, but I do like the drinks.


    Oh, you're right. A blood orange martini sticks out in the memory.
  • Post #16 - November 1st, 2006, 10:36 am
    Post #16 - November 1st, 2006, 10:36 am Post #16 - November 1st, 2006, 10:36 am
    You gotta go with a place's strengths.

    Lula seems an anti-steak place to me.
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  • Post #17 - November 1st, 2006, 10:41 am
    Post #17 - November 1st, 2006, 10:41 am Post #17 - November 1st, 2006, 10:41 am
    Mike G wrote:You gotta go with a place's strengths.

    Lula seems an anti-steak place to me.


    Yep.

    But there are few places in town that can pan-roast a bird better than Lula.
  • Post #18 - November 1st, 2006, 10:44 am
    Post #18 - November 1st, 2006, 10:44 am Post #18 - November 1st, 2006, 10:44 am
    Mike G wrote:You gotta go with a place's strengths.

    Lula seems an anti-steak place to me.


    But how do you know unless you try it?
  • Post #19 - November 1st, 2006, 10:47 am
    Post #19 - November 1st, 2006, 10:47 am Post #19 - November 1st, 2006, 10:47 am
    I think Lula gives off don't-eat-red-meat vibes from 50 yards away, personally.
    Watch Sky Full of Bacon, the Chicago food HD podcast!
    New episode: Soil, Corn, Cows and Cheese
    Watch the Reader's James Beard Award-winning Key Ingredient here.
  • Post #20 - November 1st, 2006, 10:57 am
    Post #20 - November 1st, 2006, 10:57 am Post #20 - November 1st, 2006, 10:57 am
    Mike G wrote:I think Lula gives off don't-eat-red-meat vibes from 50 yards away, personally.


    I think it's the clients, not the kitchen. The anti-meat vibes sure aren't coming from the chef, who on my last visit was bemoaning to me the lack of interest his diners had in a marvelous pork belly appetizer he was serving at that time (I thought it was one of the best red [or "other white"] meat dishes I'd had for a long time).
    JiLS
  • Post #21 - November 1st, 2006, 11:25 am
    Post #21 - November 1st, 2006, 11:25 am Post #21 - November 1st, 2006, 11:25 am
    While I'm not sure how pork belly enters into a steak/red meat conversation, but that sounds like the sort of quirky dish I would pick at Lula's, and they would do a good job with.

    Archie30, my reference to the great steakhouses of Chicago was more to point out my distorted expectations for steak in Chicago even at a place like Chicago Firehouse than your choice at Lula's. My inclusion of the other places is the type of places to which Lula's should be comparable. You should have an expectation of each dish being good at Lula's. Unfortunately it is an easy place to order badly.

    G Wiv, opinions vary. How many places in the Chinatown mall alone are better than LTH? 3? 5?
  • Post #22 - November 1st, 2006, 11:33 am
    Post #22 - November 1st, 2006, 11:33 am Post #22 - November 1st, 2006, 11:33 am
    JimInLoganSquare wrote:
    Mike G wrote:I think Lula gives off don't-eat-red-meat vibes from 50 yards away, personally.


    I think it's the clients, not the kitchen. The anti-meat vibes sure aren't coming from the chef, who on my last visit was bemoaning to me the lack of interest his diners had in a marvelous pork belly appetizer he was serving at that time (I thought it was one of the best red [or "other white"] meat dishes I'd had for a long time).


    Or the inclusion of hanger steak as a special last time I was there (which my daughter ordered).
    Think Yiddish, Dress British - Advice of Evil Ronnie to me.
  • Post #23 - November 1st, 2006, 11:50 am
    Post #23 - November 1st, 2006, 11:50 am Post #23 - November 1st, 2006, 11:50 am
    Was the hanger steak good? Mon Ami Gabi good?
  • Post #24 - November 1st, 2006, 11:53 am
    Post #24 - November 1st, 2006, 11:53 am Post #24 - November 1st, 2006, 11:53 am
    MLS wrote:While I'm not sure how pork belly enters into a steak/red meat conversation, but that sounds like the sort of quirky dish I would pick at Lula's, and they would do a good job with.


    "The Other White Meat" slogans notwithstanding, pork is a red meat, thus my reference to it. Much more important than terminological issues like that, MLS, is to note that you are exactly right, the pork belly was a dish Lula prepared extremely well, and you would've enjoyed it. Maybe if enough people ask, they'll give it another shot. Unfortunately, I think I was told they were going to have to throw out a lot of pork belly that they couldn't sell, and were highly disappointed in the results of their experiment. I suggested maybe it was the name; if they called it "Crispy Pork Tenders," or "Pig Good'n's" or some such, maybe they could better sell it to the unwashed masses. :)
    JiLS
  • Post #25 - November 1st, 2006, 11:55 am
    Post #25 - November 1st, 2006, 11:55 am Post #25 - November 1st, 2006, 11:55 am
    MLS wrote:Was the hanger steak good? Mon Ami Gabi good?


    I have had the Lula hanger steak (actually, bites from Mrs. JiLS's plate), and it was stellar. I've not tried the same dish at Mon Ami Gabi, although it was much better than the steak frite I had at MAG's Las Vegas branch a year and a half ago.
    JiLS
  • Post #26 - November 1st, 2006, 12:07 pm
    Post #26 - November 1st, 2006, 12:07 pm Post #26 - November 1st, 2006, 12:07 pm
    Lula's clientele the unwashed masses?


    _________________
    "In the land of the pigs the butcher is king." Jim Steinman
  • Post #27 - November 1st, 2006, 12:11 pm
    Post #27 - November 1st, 2006, 12:11 pm Post #27 - November 1st, 2006, 12:11 pm
    MLS wrote:Lula's clientele the unwashed masses?


    _________________
    "In the land of the pigs the butcher is king." Jim Steinman



    As a regular member of Lula's clientele, let me assure you that was a hyperbole (or one of those other figures of speech for which I forgot the names 20 years ago). This is why we use emoticons! :) :wink:
    JiLS
  • Post #28 - November 1st, 2006, 12:25 pm
    Post #28 - November 1st, 2006, 12:25 pm Post #28 - November 1st, 2006, 12:25 pm
    G Wiv, opinions vary. How many places in the Chinatown mall alone are better than LTH? 3? 5?


    Not 5, certainly.

    Love is blind.
    Watch Sky Full of Bacon, the Chicago food HD podcast!
    New episode: Soil, Corn, Cows and Cheese
    Watch the Reader's James Beard Award-winning Key Ingredient here.
  • Post #29 - November 1st, 2006, 12:42 pm
    Post #29 - November 1st, 2006, 12:42 pm Post #29 - November 1st, 2006, 12:42 pm
    MLS wrote:G Wiv, opinions vary. How many places in the Chinatown mall alone are better than LTH? 3? 5?

    MLS,

    First of all my "crazy talk" response was tongue in cheek, that said 'Little' Three Happiness resonates with me, it's my favorite restaurant in Chicago.

    LTH, which, by the way, is the namesake of LTHForum, has strengths and weaknesses, all of which have been discussed ad infinitum on LTHForum and, before LTHForum, c-h. It's open 20-hours a day, has multiple cooks and, from what I hear, it's even possible to get a mediocre meal there.

    That said, take a look here for pictures of some of my favorite dishes. I've also posted suggested menus and, in the past, reacted like an organ grinders monkey when when someone was not as enthused about place as me. No more monkey jumping for me, though I suggest you might be best served enjoying the restaurants of Chicago's Chinatown for their individual strengths.

    Enjoy,
    Gary
    One minute to Wapner.
    Raymond Babbitt

    Low & Slow
  • Post #30 - November 1st, 2006, 8:47 pm
    Post #30 - November 1st, 2006, 8:47 pm Post #30 - November 1st, 2006, 8:47 pm
    aschie30 wrote:Having had faith at that time in the kitchen, I expected to receive a beef that was akin to Le Bouchon, Mon Ami Gabi, etc., where even lesser cuts of beef or lower quality cuts are still prepared quite well. I mean, did everyone's parents regularly serve Gibson's level of beef on their table at home? Not likely. But was it still good? Yes. So I still see some value to ordering beef even when I know it's not going to be sublime. Sometimes that's what you want. And as long as you don't have one level of expectation when it comes to beef, you can do just fine.

    Nevertheless, my problem, however, seemed to be their sourcing -- the beef itself was not even passable.

    In a favorite murder mystery of mine, the identity of the killer hinges on the fact that any good restaurant ought to be able to make a decent steak -- and if it can't, something is seriously wrong in the kitchen. (Not that I am implying anything murderous about Lula's!)

    Years ago, when my husband commenced a job where he'd be traveling extensively, they sent him to a seminar with some old hands in the business, part technical instruction and part road survival course. One piece of advice he never forgot and still follows today: "If you have to eat somewhere you're uncertain about, order the New York strip steak."

    Times and tastes have changed, but it's hard to fathom why a restaurant -- in Chicago of all meat loving places -- would buy and serve inferior steak as a special, when all kinds of dives and diners, coast to coast, can turn out perfectly edible ones.

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