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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Lunch in Lynn: Mexican Mulitas at Lupita Restaurant

Posted: February 3rd, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Lupita Restaurant, Lynn, Mexican | Tags: , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Ever since we started the Dish, we’ve had the idea to do a “Lunch in Lynn” series to explore the plethora of ethnic eateries there, so when Corey Jackson of Downtown Lynn wanted company for lunch, I was all for it.

Our destination was Lupita Restaurant, the new location opened by the owners of Tacos Lupita, also on Monroe Street. The interior is bright and open, and the décor leaves no question that you are in a Mexican restaurant.

After perusing the extensive menu, we ordered at the counter and then found a table. We had just started to chat and sip our Mexican sodas, (I tried the Boing! Mango, which was awesome) when the server brought our food.

Billed as appetizers on their menu, both the pupusa ($2) and the mulita ($4) are hearty enough to have been my entire lunch. The pupusa revueltas, the smaller of the two, was a thick corn tortilla stuffed with queso and a mix of ground pork and beans served with a tangy cabbage slaw and salsa. While tasty, I preferred the mulita al pastor (shown at left), a sandwich of two grilled corn tortillas filled with roast pork (al pastor means “shepherd style,” from a rotisserie) cheese, beans, and lettuce. It had a unique savory rich mix of tastes that I really enjoyed and will definitely return for.

We also tried a carne asada burrito ($6), which was packed full of meat, beans, and rice. The flavor of the grilled beef was quite good, but I was stuffed after the mulita, and most of the burrito came home with me for the next day’s lunch.

My dining companion went all out and ordered a specialty plate, which featured breaded and fried steak (similar to the mudiga steak found in Gloucester) served with rice and beans and a salad with nice chunks of fresh avocado. As artery threatening as it sounds, it was delicious, the meat tender and flavorful.

Lupita is a great place for lunch, especially if you’re on a budget. The food is tasty and served quickly, and the portions are a bargain at these prices. Corey tells me they are waiting on a liquor license that could make them a great cheap eats destination for dinner as well as lunch.

While Lynn perennially suffers from a bad reputation, much is changing in the downtown area, and interesting things are starting to happen both in the arts and the food scene. The  available variety of ethnic cuisine alone is worth venture over the border.

Lupita Restaurant
22 Monroe Street, Lynn
(781) 599-3004

Lupita Restaurant on Urbanspoon

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Salem’s New Mexican Choices a Let Down

Posted: October 16th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Comida, Howling Wolf, Mexican, Salem | Tags: , , | 18 Comments »

With so few choices for Mexican food on the North Shore, we were thrilled that two such places were opening in Salem within weeks of each other. In fact, we were so excited that we didn’t wait long before trying them and were disappointed. We had mediocre meals at both, although Comida’s food was overall better than Howling Wolf’s.

Howling Wolf is a large restaurant with an industrial feel. The decor is interesting, but the space felt uncomfortable to us, with the exception of a lively bar at one end serving beer, wine, and sangria.

The chips and guacamole ($4.50) were very good, with a nice kick to the guac. The shrimp quesadillas ($8.25) was also tasty, and we enjoyed the posole ($6.50) even though it wasn’t hot enough temperature-wise. But the burritos were very disappointing, with flavorless rice, watery tomatoes, and dry meat in the shredded beef ($6.25) and not much more appeal in the steak version ($7). The two tacos we tried also let us down; the fish was just okay ($3.25), and the pork with red chile marinade was too spicy for our palates ($2.50).

Chips and guacamole, pork taco and burrito from Howling Wolf

Comida is take-out rather than a restaurant, although it has a few counter stools and a cheery, appealing interior. The pork taco ($3.25) and the pork carnitas and steak burritos were very good (both $6.75). The burritos were large and included quality ingredients, and we’d definitely return for them.

One nice feature is a large list of burrito fillings that includes mole, pico de gallo, mango-corn salsa, guacamole, and queso sauce, among others. However, we had a bit of an ordering mix up–two of our party wanted their burritos without beans and assumed if they didn’t list beans among their desired fillings that the burritos would be bean-free. This was not the case; the steak burrito came with unrequested black beans, and the chicken burrito came with pinto beans ($6.50).

The quesadillas were similarly very heavy on black beans, and they were not the style we are used to: soft tortillas folded around ingredients rather than flat, crisp ones. We were also surprised by the chips and guacamole; the chips were stale and the guacamole portion was tiny. So was the side of mango-corn salsa, although for only .50, we shouldn’t complain. But the same can’t be said for the ensalda de comida ($4.50), which had lettuce, avocado, and queso fresco, tortilla strips that turned out to be crushed chips, avocado lime dressing that somehow managed to be without flavor, and a few steamed vegetables, similarly flavorless ($4.50).

We’re assuming that at least some of these missteps are due to the newness of both places. We plan to return at some point to test our theory, and we welcome comments about readers’ experiences in the meantime.

Chips and guacamole, pork taco and burrito from Comida

Comida
131 Essex St., Salem
(978) 594-8220
www.comidasalem.com

Comida on Urbanspoon

Howling Wolf
76 Lafayette St, Salem
(978) 744-WOLF
www.feedyourwolf.com

Howling Wolf on Urbanspoon

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A Fish Called Walu

Posted: November 10th, 2008 | Author: | Filed under: Agave Mexican Bistro, Beverly, Cielito Lindo, Mexican, Newburyport | Tags: , , , | 3 Comments »

There you are, minding your own business, when it hits—that undeniable craving for warm tortilla chips and a salty margarita. True, there aren’t a huge number of places on the North Shore to indulge your need for Mexican comfort food, but we’ve scoped out two that are definitely worth a visit.

For a welcoming atmosphere, fantastic guacamole, and that comfort-food factor, you can’t beat Cielito Lindo on Rantoul Street in Beverly. Always busy on weekend nights, you will nevertheless be greeted with a smile by the mustachioed host, and before you know it, you’ll be seated in the cozy room digging into a rustic bowl full of avocado heaven ($7.50).

On a recent visit, we enjoyed a delicious bowl of posole in addition to the fresh-made guac. The posole was a special that night and featured red chile, white beans, chicken, and cilantro. For entrees, we had skirt steak fajitas, tilapia in a spicy cream sauce, fish tacos, and mayan style pork enchiladas with green tomatillo sauce. All were reasonably priced, freshly made, and well received.

We sipped our way through a pitcher of margaritas that was, sadly, lacking in the tequila department. Our suggestion—go with the sangria and consider a burrito ($6.95). We saw one go by that was the size of a football. Be sure to nod enthusiastically each time the host  comes by to check on you (we’re assuming he’s one of the owners)—you want to be assured of that warm greeting when you return.

For a slightly more upscale meal—and a seafood treat you would not have expected—check out Agavé Mexican Bistro on State Street in Newburyport. Again, you’ll find a wait on weekend nights, but a buzzing coaster and a drink at the inviting downstairs bar will help with that.

At one of the two dining floors above, you’ll be greeted by a colorful décor, white tablecloths, and the noise of tipsy diners. Do try the margaritas here; the restaurant is, after all, named for the plant that provides us with tequila. There are several gussied up versions, but you won’t go wrong with the basic, which has just the right amount of lime. Tequila connoisseurs may want to try a new brand straight up—the restaurant boasts more than 60.

The menu at Agavé is large and varied, and we’ve never tried anything that wasn’t well prepared and delicious. But the star of the show is walu, a fish we’ve never seen elsewhere (Agavé imports it from Hawaii) and worth raving about. It’s a firm, buttery fish that tastes almost like lobster—$23.95 at dinner with vegetable, mashed potatoes, and house-made mango salsa.

Unfortunately, between the chips, ’ritas, and walu, we’re always too full for dessert. But the menu includes churros served with chocolate and cajeta caramel syrup ($5.00), a treat we’re determined to save room for one of these times.

Cielito Lindo
150 Cabot St, Beverly
(978) 922-4657
www.cielitolindogrill.com

Agavé Mexican Bistro
50 State Street, Newburyport
(978) 499-0428
www.agavemexicanbistro.com

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