I came here for brunch two years ago (which I remember being good) but I’ve been meaning to come for the dinner menu for quite a while, since Lula Cafe is one of the originators of Farm-to-Table dining in Chicago. Reservations are rough, but spontaneity led to an 8:30pm OpenTable reservation.
There was a rotating dinner specials menu as well as the cafe menu. The large plates didn’t look so interesting today, so we opted for 4 small plates and 1 large plate. The beet bruschetta and chickpea sweet potato tagine are from the cafe menu.
BEET BRUSCHETTA black kale, smoked pecans, red onion, whipped goat cheese
Four slices of a seedy, whole grain baguette were topped with goat cheese, sliced chilled beets, and a generous heaping of crispy kale. I’m usually not a fan of kale (it’s cheap but bitter and adds no flavor), but here it was in crispy slices mostly for texture, dressed with vinegar to offset the bitterness. The flavor of the beets really came through, and paired well with the goat cheese. One of the best spreads I’ve had.
CRISPY SUNCHOKES gooseberries, chile, trout roe
This caught my eye because I saw Curtis Duffy talking about innovative ways to prepare sunchokes in the For Grace documentary, and I’ve been seeing them in the produce section at Whole Foods (they look kind of like ginger or ginseng). The dish, however, looked nothing like the raw vegetable: the sunchokes had a deep fried exterior and were cut into thick slices to look almost like oysters, with cream and roe in the center. It tasted quite good, and I really liked the texture of the sunchoke: like a creamier, softer version of taro. I look forward to trying to cook it myself (and tasting how different it is from this version).
BLACK RISOTTO baby squid, black trumpet mushroom
Self-descriptive; it’s hard to make a not-delicious risotto, and this one was still delicious. The mushroom flavor came through. Not so novel, but yummy comfort food.
CHICKPEA SWEET POTATO TAGINE green harissa, fennel, pickled golden raisins, grilled bread
By now we were quite full, but this was still delicious. I count it as another comfort food dish, but it was done quite well. The sweet potato added a necessary sweetness and extra flavor to the sauce while the chickpeas gave texture and brought the dish together.
ROASTED LAMB LEG pear, black cardamom, grilled radicchio
I’ve never had radicchio before, and all I can say is it’s really bitter. It was served with a few bacon slices and the grilling helped, but still just really bitter. The lamb leg was very good, juicy and more tender than the legs I’ve made at home so far, but it was not so impressive compared to the previous courses. I feel like with good meat and my new Le Creuset, I’ll be able to make a comparable version at home – and I will!
Overall a really pleasant dining experience. The atmosphere/vibe was casual and comfortable, it felt loud at first but the tables were spaced so that there was no trouble carrying a conversation over dinner. Service was impeccable, with just the right level of attentiveness. The food is what farm-to-table food should be: local ingredients made in simple, delicious recipes. It really is like eating in a [skilled cook’s] home. Lula Cafe is an ideal neighborhood restaurant, and given that some of the best dishes were from the cafe menu, it’s a great place to come on a weekday for lunch. I’ll be back for dinner too, of course.