The Heady Smell of potpourri hit me unexpectedly when I walked into Lulu, a four-month-old restaurant on Mulberry Street.The next thing I noticed was the unpretentious space, accentuated by candlelight, low lamps and small vases of fresh flowers.These little decorations littered the two-seater tables pressed against the wall and the cozy, dark wood bar to the right of the entrance. Larger parties can be seated in the back, where family-style raw wood tables and charmingly curtained windows add a distinct vintage style to the eating experience.
Lulus overall décor is reminiscent of a quaint French country home, the kind of place to spend a cool night wrapped around a glass of wine and a dish of pasta.
Despite Lulus I want to be here aura, the food is not as comforting and comes with less of a Gaelic bent. Chef Eric Fleischer, formerly of Bobo, dishes up items like the beef burger on brioche ($13) and a no-frills pasta puttanesca ($14), which help keep the menu open for picky eaters, like my dining companion for the evening. She couldnt indulge in anything that contained gluten, cheese, alcohol or sugar, making her a tough customer; but it allowed me to hog the sourdough rolls with herb butter that the waitress brought out. As for drinks, Lulu has a full bar, stocked with half a dozen choices of red and white wine as well all the usual spirits and mixes.
Specialty cocktails are offered; but after an encounter with the head bartenders abomination of sangriainfused with cinnamon and cardamomI decided to skip sampling any other concoction and stuck with wine. The menu isnt extensive, but it does offer more meal choices then a normal French spot; Lulu keeps its meals simple to understand, though a few French words had to be explained. Dinner ranges from a daily soup choice ($6) to pork loin with oyster mushrooms, asparagus and cipollini onion ($16) or one of the few vegetarian options, a salad with apple, manchego cheese and almonds ($9).The portions are French also, meaning you probably want to get an appetizer if you are feeling super hungry.
We settled on the asparagus, prosciutto and béarnaise appetizer ($5) to start out. The asparagus came out, green-and-white stalks laden with thin slices of prosciutto and a drizzling of béarnaise.While I thought the cooked prosciutto had an odd texture, my friend loved it.The asparagus was perfectly crunchy and, combined with the lemony sauce, made for a tasty first dish. On a previous visit, I sampled Chef Fleischers risotto fritters ($5) and salmon tartare ($6).The former came out overly salty without much flavor beyond that of being deep-fried.
But Chef Fleischer did wonders with the salmon tartare, which had a delicious, melt-in-your-mouth texture and was complimented by the crispness of a scallion cracker.
For dinner this night, I chose the Scottish salmon with creamy cauliflower and sour raisins ($17), and my picky friend chose the Atlantic cod with baby red oak, egg and lardon ($18).
The codfish looked nice with the bright yellow fried egg on top, but appearances can be deceiving.The dish was bland, flavored only by scrumptious little onions and the salty lardon.The salmon turned out fairly well; not too dry, but not the medium I requested, and with a nice crust on the outside.
The speckling of sour raisins complemented the cauliflower and scallion mixture, and the dish was overall a nice light fare. We ended the meal with the molten chocolate cake, the best-lookingalbeit most predictableof a handful of options.
I got another glass of wine and dug in. It was amazing, and I dont even like cake. My companion decided to fudge her diet and took a bite. Dessert was gone in minutesit was the best part of our meal, and the most memorable.
More than anything, the ambience at Lulu is what will bring me back. If youre looking for a place to sip wine, pick at a dish and keep warm, you couldnt make a better choice. If youre looking to do that and have a mind-blowing meal, well, skip on. -- Lulu 235 Mulberry St. (betw. Prince and Spring Sts.), 212-966-6616 --