Editor's Note: Love it or hate it, Date Night is a reality for all but the most unattached of couples. We'll check in [bi]monthly with dispatches on this most divisive of nights on the town.
There's something mildly electrifying about a date night. A predetermined amount of time away from responsibilities, the temporary reprieve from budgetary constraints caused by an affected or not special occasion, and the all-to-brief chance to stare wistfully into someone else's eyes. Wait: this sounds like a regular dinner for two at a restaurant—a "date," as it were—without the need for the "night" qualifier? Allow me to back up.
"Date night" is the great deluge of acrimony for the unattached and newly in love, and the wellspring of salvation for the committed and haggard among us all. Sure, I'll take capricious, whim-driven dalliances over negotiated and scheduled engagements any day. But whether its due to kids or career, sooner or later time must be slotted in. Instead of resisting, I say lean into it. Especially here in Chicago, date night doesn't have to be pressed button downs and boring chain restaurants. Date night is a chance to have a shared experience—to try something new. I can't think of any better place to begin than the newly renovated Logan Square neighborhood standby, Lula Café.
If, like me, you've only been pre-renovation for brunch, stepping into the new Lula will surprise. What once was dark and crowded now is light and spacious, with a comfortable sleekness that I'm at a loss at describing. Think clean lines, over-bar mirrors, and found wood. In the main dining room, candlelit shadows bounce across smiling faces and attentive service cuts through the bustle.
A crowd-pleaser according to our knowledgable and enthusiastic waitress, the Baked French Feta ($12.00) arrives to the table with a little bubble left in its step. Surrounded by a crescent of crostini, the cheese looks like a cracked sidewalk, with jalapeño basil oil filling in the gaps. Said oil is relatively mild and mainly contributes a greenish hue to the dish. Warm olives give the dish a meaty brine, while the sliced cucumber crunches and cools. The parsley garnish is the biggest surprise here, its bitter flavor deftly balancing the dish's richness.
On this evening, the Werp Farms Lettuce with Radishes and Caper Vinaigrette ($5.00) actually features shaved cucumber and red onions, though there are no complaints here. The long, leafy pieces of lettuce go for days, while the briny, clingy dressing tastes like Caesar without the guilt. Happiness increases with each bite of this bright, fresh, and crisp salad, all for a comically low five bucks.
The Marinated Beets with Dill ($4.00) are cool and earthy and taste of dirt in the best way possible. Lemony dill haunts each bite, and the champagne vinegar, olive oil, and shallot marinade is enlivened with just the right amount of chili flake kick to keep you coming back for more.
Braised Pork Shoulder ($22.00) tastes like your mom's roast, if that roast had studied abroad in Europe and picked up some sophistication along the way. The crusty, unctuous meat pulls apart easily and is well suited to swiping through the creamy, rich potato purée. Fried potato and parsnip chips add salty crunch, while buried red endive is just bitter enough to prevent excessive swooning over this bowl of elevated comfort.
I have a confession to make. I'm not much of a fan of Lula's brunch. Maybe it's the lines, maybe it's the price/portion ratio (it's probably both), but I've let my bias get in the way of letting Lula cook me dinner for too long. After this meal, I'm convinced that dinner at Lula Café is a ritual that bears much repeating. And seated across from that special someone, that sounds like a committed, routine existence I can get used to.