Sunday, June 23, 2024

Restaurant Review: Lola’s | The New Yorker

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Lola’s is named in honor of Cupps’s Filipina grandmother—lola is the Tagalog term for “grandma”—though on my visits the menu bore few overt Filipino touches, beyond a bright wisp of calamansi cutting through the clean, white sweetness of a potent gin gimlet. Cupps cooks from a pantry both global and placeless, with a motif of Southern flavors informed by her childhood in South Carolina. Crispy fried chicken thighs come with a mound of house-made pickles, tangy fermented honey, and a little bottle of coconut vinegar. Country ribs—a fatty, flavorful shoulder cut of pork—are served on skewers over a ladleful of white beans, and the piquant barbecue sauce with which they’re brushed has an oniony sweetness that gives them an unexpected but sort of wonderful hint of Ashkenazi brisket. The Lola’s space was previously occupied by a highbrow pizza joint, and Cupps has repurposed the built-in oven to fire blistery disks of naan, which are slicked with ghee and served alongside a dish of yogurt swirled with a delicate, brick-orange carrot masala sauce. You’d think a restaurant like this would have some sort of raw fish on the menu—if you have cane-backed barstools and terrazzo countertops in this town, it’s practically a legal requirement to serve hamachi crudo—but on my visits the only hint of such a thing appeared on the drinks list: the Leche de Tigre, a tart mezcal cocktail made with the bracing cilantro-jalapeño-onion flavors of fresh ceviche. (Cupps recently added a raw-fluke rice bowl, and the prophecy is fulfilled.)

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E-mail your questions about dining, eating, and anything food-related, and Helen may respond in a future newsletter.

One particularly gratifying thing that Cupps has brought with her from her previous gigs is a welcoming, casual, truly friendly form of service. An unexpected highlight of all of my meals—eaten variously at the bar, in the dining room, and at a kitchen bar in the back, which is stacked nonchalantly with serving dishes, and offers a terrific view of the action—was interacting with the restaurant’s staff. They all seem to like one another, and to like the customers, and to like the idea of Lola’s. As I was finishing my dessert one evening—a gorgeously warm and gooey chocolate-chip cookie, made with buckwheat—a server conspiratorially praised me for finishing the little cup of tea-infused oat milk served alongside. It was just a bit tannic, perfect for dunking and sipping. “Sometimes people don’t even try it,” she said, shaking her head. “Their loss, right?” ♦

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