Lulu

Restaurant: Lulu
Location: 1911 Central Avenue
Website: http://www.luludinewine.com/
Dress: casual to maybe a little spruced up for dinner
Cuisine: American/French
Price Range:

  • Appetizers: $5-26
  • Salads: $4-11
  • Entrées: $15-24
Rating: 1 out of 5 spoons

The Scoop:

To preface, I’m not one of those food people who has to hate everything to feel like my taste is “discerning” enough. I don’t think I’ve given a single negative review yet, in fact. And since I’d heard such great things about Lulu, and since I was shelling out lots of money for my meal, I was prepared to be impressed! Really! But unfortunately, dear readers, I was very disappointed with my Lulu experience.

The beginning of our meal went well. Lulu is located in a quaint little house on Central Avenue decorated impeccably with beautiful furnishings I’d love in my own home. We were seated as they were lighting the candles on all the tables, making for a charming atmosphere. After perusing the appetizers, we ordered The Movie Star to start our meal. It’s described on the menu as “gingered calamari, spiced slaw, and Asian love sauce.” While the presentation could’ve been more colorful, the calamari did, indeed, taste like quite a loving experience (and for only $9). The calamari was cooked perfectly, lightly breaded, and had a fantastic tangy flavor from the ginger and “love sauce.” We were sure at this point that the rest of the meal would be amazing!

Lulu's The Movie Star

Lulu’s The Movie Star

Unfortunately, that’s where things went downhill. To begin with, our server seemed unable to care less about our presence in the restaurant. Apart from drinks that went unfilled (I’m thirstyyy!), when I asked what his favorite entrée was, I received a gruff and somewhat exasperated, “Well, depends on what you like.” Uh, okay. He then quickly jabbed at 3 or 4 items on the menu to appease me. I chalked it up to bad people skills and chose the Make Your Bones, a “braised lamb shank, hazlenut gremolata, pumpkin polenta, [and] tomato fennel ragout.” Sounds fancy, huh? And for $20, I was definitely hoping for something fancy. The dish set before me did look and smell beautiful, and the lamb shank was quite tender and juicy, but beyond that, I was disappointed. With hazelnut, pumpkin, tomatoes, and fennel, I would’ve expected a delicious fall flavor, but the dish was quite bland. No flavor whatsoever stood out to me, and with every bite I grew more disappointed. In addition, there simply wasn’t much food. When I’m still hungry after eating a $20 entrée, something just isn’t right.

Lulu's Make Your Bones

Lulu’s Make Your Bones

I hoped Mike would fare better. He ordered Shrimp & Grits, a dish that’s easy to make delicious. It’s described on the menu as “jumbo shrimp, country ham, shrimp ‘gravy,’ and logan turnpike grits.” Unfortunately he ran into similar problems; that is, the gravy was rather bland and the $21 dish was simply unremarkable. Adding to Mike’s frustration was one of our biggest pet peeves: the shrimp were still in their shells. Don’t give me any of that “it adds to the flavor” nonsense, either! No one on this planet wants to hunt through their gravy and grits with their fingers to unpeel their dinner. Can I get an “AMEN”?! Mike’s constant refrain is, “I’m paying them to prepare my dinner, and yet I’m stuck doing part of the preparation.” Chefs of Charlotte, please peel those shrimp. Thanks.

Lulu's Shrimp & Grits

Lulu’s Shrimp & Grits

At this point, fed up with the service (still thirsty!) and the lousy meal, we decided not to even bother trying dessert (I think I just heard a gasp from the regular ‘Spoon readers). We paid our $60+ bill and left. After hearing so many recommendations to try Lulu and having such a poor experience, I almost feel like we must’ve been in the wrong restaurant!

I posted about my Lulu experience on a Charlotte Observer blog awhile back and Helen Schwab, whose reviews I always enjoy, suggested I give it another try. While I understand her point — after all, I’ve heard from so many Charlotteans who love Lulu, and perhaps we picked the only two unimpressive dishes on the menu? I guess? — I simply don’t have the budget to throw $60 away and “give it another shot.” There are so many delicious restaurants that are less expensive, and even so many expensive restaurants that are worth the prices they charge, that I wouldn’t feel justified wasting another dinner out at Lulu’s.

So there you have it, Charlotte. My first negative review.

Have you eaten at Lulu’s? Did you have a better experience than me? Tell us what dishes you liked, how your service was, etc., to give readers a balanced view. Should I try again? Share your comments by clicking on the “Comments” link below!

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25 responses to “Lulu

  1. It annoys me to know in when shrimp are served in some sort impractical (read: wet) manner with the shells still on. It constantly irks me with shrimp and grits, but just recently I had a sort of seafood dish swimming in a watery tomato sauce, and the giant prawns had the shells and heads still attached. It was a struggle not to make a mess, let alone get at the meat.

  2. I’ve been reading your blog since the first time you posted about it on LJ and I have to say that my wife and I have really come to enjoy it. We went to Mama Ricotta’s after your review and give you all the credit for introducing us to it. However, after reading this post, I have to wonder if we live in the same city, much less frequent the same restaurants. We’ve been to Lulu a few times since we moved to Charlotte and it’s become the first place my wife suggests for a nicer-than-casual night out (not to say that we go that often, it’s just the first thing that always comes to mind). We’ve had nothing but excellent service and delicious meals. I can name a duck dish and a brie stuffed chicken for sure, along with the fairly straightforward pomme frites appetizer, all of which surpassed my expectations. I can also remember one of the owners engaging us in very friendly conversation about his life in Europe as a Frenchman living in Italy (or was it the other way around?) after finding out I am Sicilian and my wife studied French.

    Honestly, I would ask some one in charge what the hell happened to you that night, none of it seems to make sense.

    In the interests of being fair and balanced, however, I will agree that leaving any inedible part of the shrimp on in shrimp and grits is obnoxious and frustrating. I feel the same way when I order it at Dish (tastes great though!).

  3. Emmanuel, I know RIGHT?! I feel your frustration.

  4. Hi Joel!

    I almost wondered if it was because we are a very young couple — perhaps don’t look like good tippers?! No idea!

    Thanks for balancing my views — I’ve heard such good things about Lulu’s that I was very surprised. Helen Schwab actually recommended contacting the owners as well, and I might, but with those prices and my budget, they only get one chance at hitting a bullseye on this blog!

    I’m feelin’ ya on the shrimp — I’ll let Mike know not to order them when we try Dish!

    Thanks!

  5. Hi Charlottespoon!

    I am from Charlotte (don’t live there now and have never gone to LuLu’s) but I wanted to point out that statistics have shown that younger people (i.e. 20’s/30’s) actually tip way better than our older counterparts. So if they are giving you bad service for that reason, they need to look at the statistics! Now, I don’t know if I will bother with this LuLu’s place when I come home. I am usually completely satisfied with going to EBB&G, which I have been frequenting since the age of 5.

  6. Hi Becca! Thanks for the stats — you learn something new every day!

    I was just struggling to find a reason — ANY reason — why our trip to this typically well-acclaimed restaurant was unsatisfactory! Who knows; may have just been a bad day.

    What’s this EBB&G? Never heard of it, but perhaps I should be adding it to the list!

  7. As a cook, I can say that sort of Shrimp dish should NEVER have shells left on the shrimp. (Although, some BBQ or Cajun shrimp dishes are actually better with shells left on.) Also, even in the photo you can see there really isn’t a very fair serving of food! Also, the waiter’s response to your question of recommendations was atrocious! I wouldn’t go back, either, and I do not plan to try it! Like you say, there are just too many other fantastic restaurants. Life it just too short… Sorry you had such a negative evening.

  8. I might agree with your young couple thing, but we’re only 24 and 23 and I look like i’m 18.

  9. Yep, that blows my theory, Joel! Maybe it was just an off night?

  10. Thanks for the backup, Mom. Even though some people love this place, I just couldn’t see the appeal.

    Life is too short, indeed.

  11. Wow! I cannot believe you had such a bad experience at Lulu. My husband and I have been there a few times and the food has always been wonderful, though we have not had the dishes you had. The frites are great and my husband thinks they have the best burger in town. We’ve been to their Sunday brunch a couple times and it was good too.
    I have to agree with you on the service though–it is hit or miss. There is one server in particular who is terrible and unfortunately I think he is the manager!

  12. Hey Rhonda,

    Thanks for sharing your experience! You’re the second person to recommend the frites, so maybe they’re worth a shot. And brunch sounds like a way to try it out again without sacrificing so much $$$! Funny about the service — we must’ve gotten the server you’re talking about!

    Thanks for presenting a dissenting view 🙂 Always welcome!

  13. Rhonda,

    Lulu is totally hit or miss. I’ve been there three times, one was great, two were terrible. Unfortunately, it’s too expensive to be on only 66% of the time. A big problem is their wait staff who, for the most part, really don’t seem to care. Great place to get drinks on the patio, and you should have tried the Central Stack appetizer, but avoid it for dinner.

    N

  14. N,

    Thanks for your comments! I might try brunch — if I notice the menu is less expensive! I just realized I left the link to the website off of this review but there *is* a site — so that’s been added now in case anyone wants to check prices / menus.

    Thanks!

  15. That is too bad you didn’t enjoy Lulu! I wonder if it has changed since I last visited… I consider Lulu one of Charlotte’s “high-end food for moderate prices” restaurants, but perhaps I should re-evaluate. Thanks for all your reviews!

  16. Hi CL,

    Sounds like it’s a “hit-or-miss” kind of place; too bad we didn’t hit. I might try again for brunch.

    Thanks for stopping by! Love the CL reviews!

  17. Lulu has a very annoying web address. Hard to remember. I think the kitchen is great, but the service is hit or miss. Thats a shame when the prices are at that level.

    Oh and EBB&G is East Blvd. Bar & Grill. Good neighborhood joint.

  18. Ohhhh, gotcha Jax. I’ve been to EBB&G! Maybe… that’s the place with the round fries, right? The food was just okay, but the neighborhood vibe was definitely nice.

    I agree about Lulu’s — with prices that high, service should always be great! Have you tried any of the dishes I mentioned?

  19. I would suggest you check out a recent podcast by The Restaurant Guys. They discuss food bloggers and it’s very interesting. Here’s a link:
    http://www.restaurantguysradio.com/sle/rg/content/shows/index.asp?show_id=455

    At the risk of coming off as condescending, I wouldn’t guess that someone who holds Mama Ricotta in such high regard would appreciate Lulu. Mama’s is a commercial concept with no commitment to creativity. Lulu, on the other hand, is a personal experience with a talented chef who is creative & committed to the local food community.

    You mentioned that you are young and perhaps therein lies the problem. In addition, Lulu is very reasonably priced for the quality of ingredients they use. But for some, price can impose huge influence over taste buds and it sounds as though that was a factor. The servings looked more than adequate. The lamb shank plate of food was massive! How was that not enough food for you? Entree sizes are out of control in the U.S., but if that’s what fits your fancy, I’m certain there is a Golden Corral in town.

  20. Hi anonymous,

    You do indeed come across as condescending and I tire very easily of people who use the kind of rhetoric you use in your comment. Ageism, presumptuousness, condescension? Others have managed to disagree without resorting to power ploys — extremely thinly veiled at that! But I knew someone JUST like you would comment eventually, so bring it on 🙂

    In saying I’m young, I certainly didn’t mean to imply that my opinion lacks credibility, which is how you seem to have taken it; I know good taste, I know good business. Good taste is not bland, and good business is not leaving my diet coke dry throughout the meal. You can argue with my opinions if you like, but them’s the facts.

    I also don’t care at all if someone has used very expensive lamb, truffles, saffron, etc. in my meal if none of it tastes good, and certainly don’t want to pay for those ingredients to be combined in such a way that isn’t pleasing. Do you?

    Thanks for your input! Obnoxious, but input nonetheless.

  21. Yes round fries. Not homemade but good nevertheless.

    At LuLu I like to get the moules & frites. Mussels and fries or whatever clever name they call them. I think I usually have to ask for bread to dunk in the mussel broth though, and that should not require asking!

    Oh and shrimp in shells – I agree. While I don’t mind peeling shrimp as I’ve been doing it all my life, a lot of restaurant dishes are too messy. I call it lazy, because if they really wanted ‘flavor’ they could make a killer shrimp broth from the shells.

  22. Hey Jax,

    Lots of folks have recommended the mussels and fries! Perhaps we chose the wrong dishes. I wouldn’t have thought they’d be so appetizing, but lots of people are fans!

  23. Also, funny, anonymous — maybe you should check out the other folks on this thread who have had similar hit-or-miss experiences with your beloved restaurant!

  24. Anonymous Friend

    I think you should give it another shot. Shrimp and grits at a French bistro probably isn’t the best order…just guessing. Try the moules frites or the the steak au poivre. Hope you give it another chance because this is one of the best restaurants Charlotte has to offer. A great place that stands out in a sea of chains and boring rehashes.

    • Hi Anonymous!

      I won’t rule it out, but in my mind, anything they put on their menu should be something they’re proud of. Also, I would’ve thought Shrimp and Grits (a lowcountry dish, but one with Cajun ties) would be pretty good there! That being said, lots of folks have recommended the moules & frites, so we may give it another shot. I just feel like there are so many amazing places in Charlotte (and we’ve been trying new fantastic places each weekend) that it’s hard to throw away money at any one place that doesn’t impress you from the beginning.

      Thanks for the rec!

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