Red Lulu Rolls Out the Red Carpet

Posted: October 27th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Drinks, Mexican, Red Lulu, Salem | Tags: , , , , | No Comments »

When a friend messaged me and asked if I wanted to attend the pre-opening party at Red Lulu Cocina and Tequila Bar in Salem, how could I refuse? The subject of much gossip, Red Lulu is the sibling of Boston hot-spot Lolita, both of which are spin-offs of restaurants of the same names in Connecticut. North Shore natives Chris Jamison, Josh Jamison, and Mark Malatesta are running the Boston versions.

Does Salem need a fourth Mexican restaurant? Will it alienate the local crowd by catering to the young hipster crowd? Is there enough parking in the neighborhood? All of these questions have been raised by Salemites as they watched the former Strega space change hands. Others got their backs up over job ads that specified “stylish hostesses and captivating bartenders” and required a “dress-to-impress” interview.

Last night Red Lulu opened its doors for an invitation-only preview party, and the place was quickly packed. We recognized local business owners and press but didn’t catch any politicians on hand.  It was nice to see they had invited other restaurateurs; Dee Wolfe from the Lobster Shanty, John Andrews from Victoria Station, and several managers from Finz were spotted. The beats were loud and throbbing, and the décor was what my companion accurately described as Edward Gorey Whorehouse. (I wonder if they told the interviewing female bar staff that their idea of stylish was super-tight, barely-there short shorts.)

Grabbing a seat at the bar, we decided to try some signature cocktails. Their nod to autumn was the Spiced Apple margarita, which, unlike so many too-sweet apple martinis popping up this fall, was tart and refreshing with green apple and lime. The cinnamon-sugar rim seemed superfluous. Next up was the Broken Heart featuring Gran Centenario Rosangel, (hibiscus infused tequila), St. Germain, Patron Citronge, white grapes, and fresh raspberries. It was fun, with raspberry ending up the main flavor, and it wasn’t cloying.  We also tried the Lolita, a more standard margarita that was very smooth and drinkable with Sauza 100 Anos Azul Reposado, Patron Citronge, fresh lime, cane syrup, and grapefruit.

Bite-sized tastes of menu items were being passed by the waitstaff, and they were varied and tasty. There was a corn bisque that was rich and savory, a cast-iron pan corn bread with roasted garlic sauce that was delicious but much too large for the “single serving” spoons, and the chips with guacamole were quite respectable. The  pork taco was my least favorite; the meat was well-spiced and tender but lacked interest. My favorite was the Ahi tostado: pepita-crusted ahi tuna on crisp corn tortilla with avocado, watercress, and chipotle aioli. Complex but balanced with nice heat.

Quality tequilas, interesting food, and funky décor are all great ingredients, but I’m not sold yet. The verdict is still out until we sample a few meals. The menu will be pricier than neighbors Howling Wolf and Comida, but it’s an entirely different experience and, likely, different audiences.

Red Lulu opens to the public tomorrow night. (10/28).

Red Lulu
94 Lafayette Street, Salem
www.redlulusalem.com

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