220A W. Sixth St.
What does Sephardic mean anyway? The Sephardim are Jews of Spanish and Southern European descent, and their cuisine reflects that flavor.
11 a.m.-2 p.m. Sunday through Friday, 5-10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, 5-7 p.m. Friday, 7-11 p.m. Saturday.
It’s expensive — dinner for two (with two glasses of wine, one of them a second choice because guess what! Lulav was out of the first choice) was $100. All credit cards accepted. Full bar.
Lulav, the kosher restaurant that’s opened at 220A W. Sixth St., makes much out of its niche, from its exterior signage touting the California Sephardic cuisine to the wait staff’s generous sprinkling of b’tay avons (bon appetit!) before courses. We called on a Monday to see what time dinner hours were and were given Friday’s first — Lulav closes at 7 p.m. that evening for Shabbat and reopens at 7 p.m. Saturday.
So OK, we get it already. It’s kosher. There’s no pork, no shellfish and, since meat is served, there’s no dairy.
But what kind of Jewish restaurant doesn’t have matzo ball soup? It’s on the menu, but we couldn’t get it at dinner, a friend couldn’t get it at lunch the next day, another friend complained he couldn’t get it the week previous. Our waitress, who was friendly as all get out, explained that it wasn’t up to standard, which we suppose means the chef made a bad batch.
Now, making matzo ball soup is no walk in the park. But a guy running a kosher restaurant — well he should be a maven, right?
Also missing in action were the fish dishes — at a recent lunch we were advised that only one was available, and at a later dinner we were told that none of the three fish dishes were available. And by the way, she added after the first course, the souffle we ordered — not tonight, sorry.
Lulav has had its troubles. Its August opening came months later than originally planned, thanks to problems meeting code, etc. Last week, it shut down for a day because, our waitress said, Katrina had cut off its food orders.
But chef and owner James Botwright had a determined look on his face the evening we dined there, and indeed, there were five tables occupied, one of them accommodating six people, on a normally slow Tuesday night and in spite a quite pricy menu with entrees in the $27 to $38 range.
We saw that look up close, when the chef came to our table and told us in an earnest tone that he welcomed our feedback. We resisted making a joke about the superiority of the Ashkenazi and instead smiled sweetly, and gave him our ultimately delicious and thick veal chop and asked if it could be cooked a wee bit more, apologizing for our unsophisticated desire for medium rare. He took it away and when the chop returned, it was cooked exactly the way we wanted, a little singed on the outside, pale with just a hint of pink on the inside, and sitting in a puddle of plum sauce besides. Nestled on the side were roasted (and delicious) blue new potatoes and baby vegetables smothered in what tasted like oil and summer savory. The latter we could have done without; but that’s our personal dislike for summer savory coming into play. Plus, one of the vegetables looked like a pencil-thick pickle, and already cowed by the Hebrew characters on the menu we didn’t ask what it was.
Our dining companion had the adult version of the veal — a large filet — in a mushroom and cognac sauce, a sumptuous and tender choice, quite as good as the veal. A small mountain of garlicky mashed potatoes on the side was as good as it gets in the spud line.
The go-before salad — described as a duck confit and recommended by the waitress — was met with firm disapproval by our companion. It was, she said, weird. We were less turned off, but not really impressed, either. The duck was ground and sprinkled over lettuce (also doused in plum sauce) and there wasn’t much quack to it.
Our friend also complained that the menu’s headings — a single Hebrew symbol for each section rather than “salads” or “entrees” — was bewildering.
She applauded the apple ice that was served after the duck confit, however. And she was crazy about the complimentary serving of cucumbers and hearts of palm doused in truffle oil and balsamic vinegar. We liked it too, but at lunch a few weeks back, the little salad was even better, since it came with salmon and no balsamic, so that the lovely truffle oil dominated. (We raved over it to the waitress, who looked at us and asked “You never heard of truffle oil?” Oy vay.)
At that lunch, we had truly delicious beef kabobs, but where once we would not have thought twice about raw ground beef, today we hesitate. We were assured they were cooked through, but … Our red snapper was a tad undercooked, too. By now you’re thinking that we like our food overcooked, but we vow that this is not the case.
We tried a trio of ices at that lunch, also. The vanilla and rose ice was great for one bite. But then our nose kicked in and sent a message to our brain that we were eating soap, and that was the end of the vanilla rose ice. Ditto for the lavender and citrus. However, it’s tough to make dessert without cream or butter, so we understand the difficulty posed by a kosher kitchen when it comes to dessert. Sure wish the cinnamon hazelnut souffle had been available, though.
Having been deprived of said souffle at dinner, we ordered coffee with a shot of Bailey’s Irish Cream. That would be kosher Bailey’s Irish Cream, the waitress explained, and now even she looked a little confused.