The Best Seat in the House Is at the Bar
This post is about having dinner at the bar, one of my favorite places to eat. Why the bar? Well, that’s what we’ll explore throughout my posts on this topic, but my recent dinner companions Pam and Benjie agree that there’s a buzz at the bar that you don’t often encounter sitting at a table. Today we visit one of my longtime favorites, the exceedingly popular Lula Café, which leads us to another benefit of eating at the bar: sometimes it’s easier to get a seat.
Our recent dinner at Lula Café was not intended to be a meal at the bar. We planned to arrive at this Logan Square restaurant at 6:30, anticipating we’d have a drink at the bar then get seated shortly thereafter. Oh how naïve we were. After all, the Logan Square neighborhood in Chicago is now a hot and happening neighborhood. As a close friend always reminds me, it’s exploded since the years when I made this neighborhood my home and trendy restaurants were few and far between. As luck would have it, the 1.5 hour wait for a table, coupled with the opening up of three well located bar stools clinched our decision to settle in for dinner at the bar.
Oh Lula! How You’ve Changed
As we sidled up to the bar, one of the young hipster bartenders welcomed us and delivered the “set ups” (silverware and that triangle folded napkin that handily serves as a place mat) that were our tools for dining at the bar. Once we were comfortably ensconced at the bar and had ordered a bottle of wine, I took a minute to take in the surroundings.
We were seated at the sumptuously thick marble bar which is the focal point of Lula Café’s newly expanded second room. ( Though this is the larger of the restaurant’s two rooms, I still consider the original, and now relatively diminutive adjacent room to be number 1. ) A giant antiqued mirror dominates the area above the bar adding warmth, light, spaciousness, and importantly affording bar patrons a great view of the room behind them. The ability to somewhat voyeuristically take in what is happening throughout the restaurant, is another reason I enjoy dining at the bar.
We took our time perusing the menu that included the restaurant’s reasonably priced and always-there “café” offerings as well as its specials. At the bar, I never feel rushed to order like I sometimes do at a table. And the bartender is always a hand wave away, making it easy enough to get recommendations. After conferring briefly with the bartender, we decided on two appetizers to share, the razor clams and tempura forest mushrooms, and as we waited for our appetizers we enjoyed the lively ambiance at the bar, full with people of all types and ages, but heavy on the hipster segment.
The Food, or Alternatively Titled, I Win!
The razor clams were a novelty for me, long and narrow and served on the half shell. Though I can now check them off my list (Razor clams check!), I’m not so sure I’d order them again. The tempura forest mushrooms, on the other hand, made an impression. Forest mushrooms with their twiggy, irregular shapes make a nice foundation for light tempura batter. What results is a crunchy and savory branch-like morsel. And yes, for me branch-like was a positive quality.
Then it was time for the entrées. If I do say so myself, I had the best entrée of the three of us hands down. I ordered the Strozzapreti with Venison Ragu. Our bartender informed us with a chuckle that Strozzapreti is a pasta and that the name means priest choker. Gonna have to make a visit to Wikipedia for more information about that. Strozzapreti is unique, characterized by long strips of irregularly bumpy pasta, kind of like spaetzle. The venison ragu would have made my dad, a Maryland deer hunter and some-time home chef green with envy. Yes, sorry dad, it was better than your venison Provencal. Tender chunks of venison fell apart on my fork, salty and rich in flavor.
Pam ordered the soup of the day, an heirloom squash soup, along with a ham and raclette panino. In her own words, “I was slightly disappointed with my selection when it arrived but I changed my mind as soon as I took a bite.” She was impressed by the freshness of the Ciabatta and the combination of the sandwich’s flavors and loved the soup. True to form, Benjie ordered the veal cheeks. Belly, cheeks, whatever, he’ll order it. The veal cheeks were good. But my dish was better.
As I mention in my About page, I am not a professional critic, nor am I a chef. I’m not here to review the restaurants, only to share my experiences with those interested enough to my read my posts. I’m not going to wax on about each ingredient that makes or breaks a dish (unless I feel like it). I haven’t even mentioned a word about Lula Café’s focus on locally grown ingredients and their “naturalist” food philosophy. I will, however, offer a simple thumbs up or down on the “bar worthiness” of each venue I write about. When the urge strikes me, I’ll also throw in a top 5 things I like about this place. And the urge has struck me, so here goes.
Top 5 Things I Liked about Dining at Lula Café’s Bar
5. Purse hooks under the bar
4. Retro-cool Victrola horn speakers
3. The super-thick marble bar
2. The warm and vibrant ambiance
1. Strozzapreti with venison ragu
The Bottom Line: Should I Stay (Home) or Should I Go?
Dining at Lula Café’s big marble bar gets a big thumbs up. Go there, give it a try.
Lula Café is located at 2537 N. Kedzie, in Chicago, IL. Get the scoop from their point of view at http://www.lulacafe.com.