"That place has more lives than a cat," proclaimed a colleague when the word arrived about another reincarnation of Lulav on Sixth Street between Louisiana and Center.
The restaurant has gone through a raft of openings and closings and innumerable changes in chefs, management, ownership and names (including The Italian Kitchen at Lulav and, most recently, Cellar 220) since James Botwright opened it in 2005 as a California/Sephardic fusion kosher "modern eatery," the first of many less than successful enterprises in the space.
Cellar 220 closed earlier this year, apparently, based on the posting on the front doors, for nonpayment of its Convention and Visitors Bureau "hamburger" taxes. Herman Lewis is the owner/operator who has resurrected it, with former Lulav owner Matt Lile as a consultant and Keyno Blackshear as the chef.
We've speculated that the failure of this restaurant to completely and finally die and disappear may be due in large part to its being a natural dining destination for folks attending downtown performing arts events, close to downtown theaters and Robinson Center Music Hall.
But considering how hard it has been for us dedicated dining professionals to keep up with the continuing stream of rises, falls and changes, we'd bet that the dining public is at least as confused. And -- given that we were on at least two occasions the establishment's only customers -- the point may have finally arrived where they won't come back.
The two-dining-room decor is basically unchanged, with some tables set on barrels and others on pedestals (barrels were one of the big innovations when it became the Italian Kitchen at Lulav). The walls still sport a trio of much larger than life, wine-based paintings, but don't use them as an ordering guide -- there may be a restaurant in this market that's serving Chateau d'Yquem, but Lulav certainly isn't it.
Dim, indirect lighting and Mediterranean fixtures and accents linger from decors past. The air conditioning works better in the less formal but still highly decorative second dining room in the former lobby of the business college that once occupied the building.
What was billed as an "all-star menu" when the restaurant reopened a month or so ago includes several Lulav "classics," meaning dishes that were on the Cellar 220 menu (some of them concocted by Donnie Ferneau Jr., who served as a consulting chef) to which Chef Keyno has made some minor changes. Somebody -- Lile, we suspect -- has revived the same prix fixe wine pricing system that was in effect two restaurants ago.
The sauce on the Mussels Arrabiata (still a steal at $9) with chorizo, served in an iron casserole skillet surrounded by triangles of grilled flat bread, wasn't nearly as spicy as the one that initially wowed us at Cellar 220, but it was rich and tasty and we'd still order it again. However, three of our approximately dozen and a half mussels didn't open in the cooking process.
We'd also consider ordering again the Blue Point Crab Cake with lemon caper aioli, served on a bed of charred corn. It's a very good crab cake, actually one of the area's best, with a minimum of filler and nicely spiced. But it's $10, and that's whether you get it as a lunch or dinner appetizer or on a bun as a lunch sandwich. And that's pretty pricey for one small crab cake.
We can also recommend two newer appetizers: the gooey Garlic Cheesey Bread ($5) and the blackened tilapia version of the Street Truck Tacos ($8; chicken is the other option).
The menu calls the main list of entrees "Small Plates," but they're actually of pretty decent size.
We bypassed, having less than happy Cellar 220 memories, the $18 Salt and Pepper Pork Tenderloin with balsamic fig barbecue sauce and bacon creamed cabbage. (From our Cellar 220 review: "Only slightly overcooked, just enough to make the pork a shade tough. First bite revealed distinguishable salt and pepper flavors; after that, what dominated was the 'Balsamic Fig BBQ,' which tasted very vaguely of figs but came off as just over-sweet barbecue sauce. The bacon-creamed cabbage was altogether too creamy for us, more along the lines of a wet, bacon-flavored slaw.")
We did revisit, and do approve, Chef Keyno's new version of the Panko Parmesan Crusted Salmon ($18), a nice piece of fish accented by a roasted lemon vinaigrette and served with sides of a nicely garlicky sauteed spinach and asparagus.
We'd say the best reason to visit the newest Lulav is a new menu item, World Traveling Joe's Spicy Paper Sack Fried Chicken & Waffles ($14 for dinner, $10 for lunch), four huge, fried-just-right chicken tenderloins coated in a tasty, spicy bacon batter, served atop a Belgian waffle with an ample portion of maple syrup and a dusting of confectioners' sugar. We don't know World Traveling Joe, but we'd like to shake his hand -- with the one of ours not holding the fork.
But we'd advise the barkeep to keep the 8-ounce Bar Keeper's Seasoned Steak ($18).
Nicely seasoned, it was, and we liked the accompanying fries, a smaller portion of the Rosemary & Garlic Pommes Frites that are an $8 appetizer.
But Intrepid Companion was distinctly disappointed, and justly so, with the rubbery texture, not unlike cheap (and we don't just mean inexpensive) steaks we'd had back in the day at Bonanza and its ilk. After we reluctantly explained our issue to Chef Keyno (he does come out on the floor to check on things), he actually rebated on our ticket 75 percent of the cost of the entree.
The restaurant might make its mark with the four Chef's Specialty Entrees -- a cowboy rib-eye accompanied by the rosemary garlic fries ($29 for a 12-ounce cut, $49 for 24 ounces); sea bass in a rosemary chardonnay butter sauce with asparagus and garlic smashed potatoes ($38); an 8-ounce filet mignon topped with mushrooms in a cabernet sauce and garlic smashed potatoes ($34; add $10 for Oscar-style); and chateaubriand for two, carved table-side, topped with bearnaise plus asparagus and garlic smashed potatoes ($79).
We didn't try any of those -- $34 to $79, that's a large chunk of change unless your last name is Walton or Rockefeller. And even though our company pays for it, it's tough to justify shelling out the gross national product of a small African country for a dinner entree.
Service was generally very good, not that surprising considering that the wait staff didn't have a lot else to do.
Weekend on 07/31/2014
Print Headline: ‘New’ Lulav, classic flavors