No matter how Lewis Curtis fares on "Hell's Kitchen," Lulav's executive chef is a winner just by being chosen as a contestant on the popular Fox reality show. And, by association, Lulav will be a winner, too. The new season with Curtis and company enduring the bombast of surly host/chef Gordon Ramsey debuted Sept. 22, and by now the eclectic, pleasantly funky/chic bistro on Sixth Street surely has seen a nice bump in business.
Based on a recent quiet Monday dinner, Lulav is ready for the increased scrutiny and judgment of new and returning customers. And with only a smattering of folks there when we had dinner and only one to-go customer stopping by the next morning when we tried the still relatively-new Lulav "bistro breakfast," the "Hell's Kitchen" publicity infusion is well timed.
Lulav's dinner menu is small, but every item is appealing, and narrowing down choices is tough, just as you'd want it to be. We began with two outstanding appetizers. The brandy cream shrimp ($13) is a must-have, the tail-on crustaceans cooked to perfectly tender and the brandy providing just the right amount of kick. You'll find yourself sopping every thimbleful of sauce with the accompanying pita points. We also tried the foccacia del Giorgio ($9), which really is more like a world-class French bread pizza – chopped vegetables and cheese layered with top-quality Italian meats. Half made it home for a next-day brown-bag lunch.
Our entrees were almost as beautiful as they were delicious, prompting a couple of iPhone food shots (my kingdom for a flash!). For lovers of delicate, flaky white fish, walleye can't be beat. And Lulav doesn't try any tricks, pan-searing a thick fillet, garnishing it with fresh dill and artfully placing it atop a bed of creamy, cheesy grits.
Pork tenderloin has become ubiquitous and often mundane, but not at Lulav. Two keys to this dish — the blood-red, rich, cranberry-based demiglaze that accented but didn't overwhelm, and fleshy gnocchi on the side.
We'll see whether the breakfast experiment lasts. It seems logical to think there'd be downtown demand, and there is limited supply, but based on our one trip either the word hasn't gotten out or folks are hustling just to get to their offices on time. Frankly, there was little about our Lulav breakfast to distinguish it. The $5 tab for the basic breakfast is very reasonable, and there's little arguing with two eggs over easy, a couple of well-crisped, spicy sausage patties; a small mound of hash browns with a sprig of rosemary and two nice slabs of toast. But it wasn't revolutionary. The Spanish omelet ($7) also was solid but didn't redefine or elevate the genre. And the blueberry muffin ($2) we took to the office for later was truly unexceptional – large, a bit dry and shy on berries; Otis Spunkmeyer does better work.
Its downtown status means lunch is the hoppin'est meal at Lulav, and while we didn't make lunch this go-round, we remain big fans of the wide selection of smallish bistro burgers and many of the creative sandwiches.
There is much good news for Lulav beyond the short-term benefits of "Hell's Kitchen" exposure and even the long-term foundation built by serving creative, well-prepared food, including: 1) it's a cool place to hang out; a historic building that's well appointed; 2) it has fun happy hours including weekly martini and wine tasting specials; 3) it's got a built-in clientele with Arkansas Rep goers; 4) it's a see-and-be-seen kind of place.
Veterans and newcomers will find plenty to like there.
220 W. Sixth St.
Consider stopping between 4 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, when for $8 you can get eight "tasting pours" of different wines featured on Lulav's list.
Breakfast 6:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Friday, lunch 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday, dinner 5 to 10 p.m. nightly, lounge 10 p.m.-1 a.m.
Full bar, credit cards accepted. $$-$$$$.