Lulu is a SOMA landmark and I have fond memories in the distant past of many enjoyable meals here. Something, however, seems to have gone awry in recent times. On my last visit I remember what I had to eat, which although usually a good sign, was not so in this case. I remember struggling with some dreadfully over-cooked, spiny and tiny fish still swimming, albeit in a sea of oil. On my most recent visit I was determined not to let this unpleasant Piscean memory jade my mood or muddy my expectation. Had I done so, then the experience I had at lunchtime last Friday might have been more enjoyable.
The dĂ©cor at Lulu isn't bad for an 11 year-old SOMA eatery. A sunken main dining area with densely packed tables, some raised tables to the left and a quite often raucous bar to the right in a renovated 100-year-old warehouse all combine to produce a deafening noise level. The decibels are often enhanced by booze-fueled convention folks who arrive in marauding masses from the Moscone Center (just a block away). The fact that they serve the food here "family-style, encouraging a festive and communal atmosphere," doesn't help either. I would think twice if I were you about bringing your sweetie here for an intimate meal.
Lulu is very proud of their "Provencal" menu. Provencal, to me, means cheap southern French-Mediterranean fare for the common man or woman. They seem to have grasped at least one-half of that equation here at Lulu where you can, indeed, eat like a peasant--but for a king's ransom.
Well, on my most recent visit my friend and I followed the orders of our camp commandant and decided to share three antipasti (curious term for a "Provencal" menu). Here diners may choose three of the listed antipasti for a total of $14.50. If this sounds like a bargain, then think again. The portions are miniscule. My friend and I chose the roasted beets, some rabbit rillette and a leek, goat cheese and bacon tart. The servings of each were so small that we really only had a mouthful each of our selected trio. Even so, all three were jolly nice. I don't know about family-style, but if families are fed thusly in Provence, then starvation must be rife.
Turning to the main courses, Lulu is also boastful of their wood fired oven, rotisserie and grilled specialties. Sounds yummy, yummy - doesn't it? I chose that day's featured specialty from the much-vaunted rotisserie; suckling pig with baby red dandelion, bread and roasted onion salad ($25.50). What I received was a plate of inedible and bitter tasting dandelion leaves, a few shreds of onion, some lumps of bread and even fewer, miniature chunks of pork. At first glance I couldn't see any pork at all and had to go on a safari through the copious undergrowth of dandelion leaves to hunt down the endangered-species of pig. The pork was tender and sweet, but there was too little of it. Twenty-five-dollars-plus for a plate of weeds and few scraps of pork was an insult. My friend had a cherry and chicken sausage with some equally inexplicable accompaniments. The cherry sausage was good, but again, the accompaniments were mismatched and wretched.
Our servers were eager to clear our plates, and after the third attempt to whisk our dishes away before we had finished, we surrendered, paid the bill and fled without desert.
Lulu proclaims its food as unpretentious. I beg to differ. When a green salad is described a "bowl of baby lettuces with herbs, bread and zinfandel vinaigrette" it would be cruel not to laugh--the only thing stopping an outburst of hilarity being the price, $7.25. I also noticed the ghastly Sand Dabs A La Plancha (Lord, now what country are we in?) priced at $17.95, which I had the misfortune to sample on my last visit, were mysteriously still on the menu.
For wine-lovers, there is an award-winning wine list with over 70 wines available by the glass. Judging by the din coming from the bar, several of those propping it up were making a valiant effort to sample all of them.
It gives me no pleasure in saying this, but Lulu, sadly, represents just about everything that is wrong with the restaurant business: disinterested service, intimidating menu choices, tiny portions of anything of any culinary value, bushels of crap, pretentious culinary roots (about as firm as Birnam Wood) and all at a price which is unmerited.
Lulu can be found at 816 Folsom Street between 4th and 5th Streets (it's actually much closer to 4th Street). There are all kinds of complicated hours of operation. Suffice to say that Lulu is open for lunch and dinner seven days a week. For more information call (415) 495-5775.