Tag Archives: restaurant

Lula Cafe [2], Logan Square, Chicago

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.

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Amass Restaurant, Copenhagen, Denmark

The main reason for my visit to Copenhagen was to experience New Nordic cuisine, and Amass was my topic priority of the trip. I’ll admit that I chose Amass because I didn’t manage to get a seat at Noma, and various sources suggested Amass as a very good alternative (at 1/3 the price!). In particular, it is featured on the New York Times 36 Hours in Copenhagen article. The head chef, Matt Orlando, previously worked at Per Se, The Fat Duck, and most recently as head chef at Noma. At the time of my visit, Amass is No. 66 on the S. Pellegrino World’s Best Restaurants list.

Amass is located very out of the way, far from any of the usually frequented locations in Copenhagen. I took a bus and then walked 15 minutes to get there. Nobody would come here by accident! The 0th (ground) floor has a window showing the kitchen; you walk up the stairs to enter on the 1st floor, then proceed to go back downstairs to the dining area. The restaurant space is large, cavernous, and gives an overall laid-back atmosphere. Throughout the meal I was served by multiple people, more than half of whom were actually chefs delivering the plates straight out of the kitchen, which is quite a unique and fun concept. Since this was the highlight of my trip, I figured I might as well get the extended menu. I eat pretty quickly, and the service kept the pace very well. The waits between courses were short, and my meal lasted from 12:30-3:00pm.

Extended Menu

Corn, Fermented Cep, Rose Hip Vinegar

The corn, creme fraiche, and vinegar was blended in a cream and served with bits of tapioca chips infused with fermented cep on top. The sweetness of the corn was present and balanced the acidity of the vinegar.

Fresh bread with topping of fermented potato, chopped cabbage, fava been puree, fennel

The bread (listed elsewhere on the menu as fermented flatbread) came wrapped in a blanket, steaming hot. The inside was very soft, almost like pizza dough. The topping had a distinct fermented taste. Overall it’s like a European version of the fermented turnips and porridge I sometimes eat for breakfast, although I am still finding the taste of fennel a little usual.

Fresh Clam with foam of clam juice, chopped rhubarb, fermented vegetable

This dish is part of the extended menu, and it was served to me by Chef Orlando himself (although I didn’t recognize him until later). He mentioned the foam also had some kind of dry aged beef juice but I didn’t quite catch it. Served in the clam shell. Unfortunately I was not a fan of this: the fermented vegetable was quite strong and overpowered the actual clam, so the freshness of the clam itself did not shine through.

Tomatoes, White Currants, Juniper Oil

Copenhagen doesn’t have the climate for tomatoes, so they said these were farmed in a greenhouse by some friends of the restaurant with a bio-farm. They said they looked really hard to find the best tomatoes in Denmark! The tomatoes were slightly dried (at the restaurant), served with tomato water, a hint of vinegar, blackberry, roasted fennel. The tomatoes were quite tasty, with some extra acidity due to the vinegar. The tomato water was quite good; it reminded me of the juice at the bottom of a salad, except balanced so that the vinegar wasn’t too strong.

Salted Mackerel, Peas, Burnt Lemon

The peas were fermented, which gave a distinctive flavor (almost a little like mustard/wasabi). The mackerel was tender, served with seared skin. But again I found the fermented peas to actually detract from the taste of the fish.

Beet Root, Sour Curd, Mugwort, Pickled Yarrow Flowers

Perhaps my favorite dish of the meal. The beets were semi-dehydrated (roasted), which gave it a slightly chewier (like dried fruit) texture that worked really well. It was also served with something sweet sprinkled on top, which made it even tastier.

Beef Heart with brown butter, wild mushroom, red currant, flowers

(Extended menu course) The beef heart was very tender — I think it was just lightly sautéed. Texture more like tripe than the more rubbery heart I’d have expected. The currant provided a necessary brightness, while the butter added some nuttiness.

Organic Pork Neck, Grains, Walnut, Unripe Apples

A welcome change from pork belly, which I feel is a bit ubiquitous at the moment. Cooked so the meat was quite tender, everything worked well. The walnut was in cream form. I only realized after I finished the dish that it was so easy to eat without any heaviness due to the unripe apples, which provided the necessary sourness to cut through the rest of the flavors.

Fresh Cream, Caramelized Goat Milk, Dried Carrots

(Extended) This was like a mini Yorkshire pudding (or an open faced macaron), with the wispy cream mounded to hide the dried carrot pieces. Really great, the carrots provided texture, and carrots and goat milk added sweetness.

Wild Blueberries, New Potato Ice Cream, Dried Vinegar

Potato ice cream really tasted a little like potato, and it wasn’t sweet so the blueberries and vinegar stood out. The ice cream was topped with thin wafers made of whey (and maybe potatoes?), with powdered dried sweet vinegar sprinkled on top. The powder really tasted strongly of vinegar, but it paired fairly well with the ice cream.

Rosemary Pound Cake, rhubarb and olive oil compote, coffee bean wafer with chocolate foam

An extra ending course. The cake is apparently made purely from lots of rosemary and butter blended together and baked. It tasted like pound cake with a strong rosemary flavor. The thin wafer was separate, made with yesterday’s used coffee beans: two layers with chocolate in the middle.

I ended with a pour-over featuring Kenyan beans from Swedish roaster Koppi. I wanted to try their coffee since they featured it on Instagram as being specially coordinated with Koppi. It was very light tasting, but without too many complex fruit flavors even at room temperature. The Kenyan pour-over from Metric Coffee in Chicago is much better. And the coffee cost 65 DKK which is quite expensive!

Overall, I feel like I got a good feel for New Nordic cuisine through this meal. As expected, big emphasis on vinegar and fermentation. Some of the flavors were definitely still new to me, which made the taste harder to process. To me, the dishes featuring seafood were the weakest on the menu, as the freshness of the ingredients was masked/distracted by fermented flavors. On the other hand, all of the vegetable preparations were delicious and unique. I am quite satisfied with this meal. I’m also kind of glad I came here instead of Noma: partly because I feel like I’m getting in before the “hype”, but also because I think my enjoyment may have been deterred if I had spent 2-3x as much and not fully enjoyed every single course.

Pity I can’t revisit during this stay in Copenhagen. Next time I want to try their Simplicity Menu: less courses, bigger portions but still same focus on local New Nordic cuisine.