Friday, October 19, 2007

Lula Cafe

Last week I participated in what seemed like an improvisational offbeat tour of Chicago with a friend from high school (and McGill) and a couple of others. We were all over the city, which is great for me because I tend to get trapped in the same routine. My school schedule keeps my life pretty much centered around a few neighborhoods - the one in which I go to school, the one in which I study, the one in which I live. My friend Josh comes in every once in a while and takes me out of my comfort zone and I get to see the city in a whole different way. Josh is a pretty transient person, so he has more of an inate tendency to explore than I probably do. Last time he was in we went to a beer festival at Three Floyds Brewery in Munster, Indiana. Who knew? This time there were plans of a corn maze, which were thrown to the wayside one the downpour arrived. We still managed to make some pretty good stops, which took us all around Wicker Park, Andersonville, Uptown, the Clybourn Corridor, Lincoln Park, the list goes on. The feature of the night though, was our meal at Lula Cafe in Logan Square.

Logan Square has recently turned into a haven for young professionals. Hipsters have flocked en masse and the area has become quite gentrified in recent years. Lula Cafe has been around for a while, and like the area in which it's found, has become a destination for the hipster set and yuppies who think themselves edgy. The space itself is really comfortable, no tables are too close together and the bar is in a separate room, leaving diners with minimal disturbances. The restaurant has gained exposure and crowds flock consistently; we entered at about 8:15 on a Wednesday and were greeted by a hostess telling us there was a 40-minute wait for a table. Josh spoke quite highly of the place, so we happily sat down at the bar and waited.

There are two sides to the menu. On the left lays a seasonal menu that changes (I believe, don't quote me on this though) weekly. On the right is their cafe menu, the kitchen staples served year-round. An unexpexted mix of salads, sandwiches, soups and other small bites comprise the cafe menu. Among its entrees are a couple of pasta dishes, a Moroccan tagine and a roast chicken, which is by far the most expensive item on the cafe menu at $14. The food is incredibly affordable and you certainly get a lot for your money. With two drinks and an appetizer for the table, our dinner for four, including tip, came in at around $25 per person. And was it ever worth it.

"Fettuccine Alfredo " with Pumpkin Egg Cream, Wild Mushrooms, Braised Duck, Pecorino, Pan di Zucchero, and Brown Sugar Bread Crumbs:

By the way, that is the pork confit that was supposed to be served with my fish at the edge of the plate above. I ordered it on the side and came on a separate plate with the radicchio. I didn't order this dish, but I had a couple of bites off of my friend's plate. The flavors were really good, the brown sugar bread crumb lent a really sweet note to the pasta, which is something I can't say I've experienced too many times before. At the same time, it was this sweet note that gave me the impression that a full plate would have been far too much. The two bites I had were more than enough for me, I got to taste something I hadn't and that was that. The sauce was definitely not as heavy as actual alfredo sauce, which was a good thing, but I couldn't really discern the taste of pumpkin too well under the sweetness of the bread crumbs and the saltiness of the cheese.

Rabbit Ravioli with Sunchoke, Escarole, Rabbit Broth, and Citrus:

I don't typically eat rabbit, but I was peer pressured into it by the three boys with whom I was dining - I guess I didn't really put up much of a fight now that I think about it. The ravioli were pretty good, the meat was moist and the pasta had a nice bite to it. I couldn't really figure out what the rabbit was seasoned with, but it had a nice subdued spice to it. The greens were good and the broth was really light.

Pan Seared Rushing Waters Rainbow Trout with Pork Confit, Radicchio, Delicata Squash, Watercress, and White Anchovy:

This was a huge piece of fish, so everyone at the table got a good taste. All of my dining companions agreed that this was the best dish on the table. It was ordered off of the (purportedly, this was my first time here) ever-changing seasonal menu, as were the Ravioli and the Fettuccine. I ordered the pork confit on the side, not knowing that the radicchio would come on the side with it, but the dish was still great. The fish was perfectly cooked, the skin crispy. The citrusy-dressed watercress complemented the saltiness of the fish quite nicely. The squash was fork tender and delicious. I don't recall much of an anchovy taste at all and I wish I had, since anchovies are one of my favorite things of late. The sauce from the radicchio and pork plate might have elevated some of the flavors a bit, but the dish was delicious even in its absence.

Shiitake Quesadilla with Queso Fresco, Spinach and Chevre:

This was the only item on the table ordered from the regular menu. The shiitake mushrooms gave the quesadillas the impression of meatiness and had a great, substantial presence between the tortilla. My friend declared them the best quesadilla he's ever had. The moisture of the mushrooms did not escape, preserving the crunchiness of the quesadilla. The cheese was perfectly melted and stretched out just enough with eat bite, and the chevre provided the perfect salty edge. The dipping sauce, which was paired with sour cream, tasted pretty heavily of paprika, but was really interesting because of it.

I would love to come back to Lula Cafe and sample more items from their cafe menu. However, I don't realistically see this happening. Seasonal menus always suck me in, I feel as if I MUST order off of the seasonal menu lest I never get the chance to taste what has been offered to me again, or at least for another year. I can see the future of my dining experiences at Lula Cafe: I enter knowing what I want, since it is the item I wanted to try last time but was wooed away from by the hot ticket at the moment. I tell myself that I will not let that happen again, and I will be strong, and I will try that dish. But I know that dish will always be there, and again I will be tempted away to the seasonal delights. Come to think about it, that isn't really such a bad thing after all.

Lula Cafe
2537 N. Kedzie Boulevard (just south of Logan Square)
(773) 489-9554

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