Monday, December 28, 2015


George Mendes strikes again with a second location, not far from his wildly successful first venture, Aldea.  Lupulo is more casual- boisterous in fact, with an energetic bar scene... the name is Portuguese for "hops", after all.  And had I know that before ordering a clear, crisp Vinho Verde to accompany the small plates of the rustic, Portuguese comfort food, I would've opted for one of their
 cervesas, mostly like the Solid! American Wheat beer from my hometown, Portland, Oregon.  But the list is vast of both beer, wine and cocktails: Lupulo's food is meant to be drunk with.  Not to BE drunk with, although as long as that wasn't taken to the extreme, the restaurant is casual and lively enough that this probably wouldn't be entirely frowned upon.

The bar curves around the middle of the dining room, and serves as the focus of the menu and the space. Bartenders are busy taking orders and blending drinks- it might take a second to get your order in.  But no rush; the vibe is animated enough to make Lupulo feel a bit like a party.  

Befittingly, we started off with some wonderfully crisp salt croquettes with piri piri mayonnaise, which would've made for excellent party food.  They came from the Petisco section of the menu, but these  three voluptuous fritters were not so petisco, delicately cloaked in crunchy golden shells that broke to release the fragrant steam of pillowy tufts of chive-flecked bacalhau within.  Tiny daubs of the zippy piri piri mayo offered tang and spice, which were unfortunately two elements of the cuisine at Lupulo that were otherwise underutilized.
The menu is unreliably sized, but the prices are a pretty good indication, as a $15 plate of brussels (also a Petisco)  sprouts endured for the duration of the meal.  They were good, tossed with crisp bits of country ham and roasted apple for a touch of sweetness, and while I'm not sure where these fall along the scope of Portuguese authenticity, I'm not one to argue with a generous serving of brussels sprouts.   They could've also qualified for the section of Hortas, although perhaps these
 are all strictly vegetarian so the ham bumped
 them out.  From here, we chose a small plate of smoky roasted beets, blitzed with cilantro and a mild sluice of foamy coconut.  The intensity of the smoke was a brilliant counter to the natural sugars of the beet and the sweetness imparted by the coconut.  In fact, this may have the the most successful dish all night.

An intriguing sounding Acorda di Camarau was a sort of sophisticated pabulum of tomato and onion, but mild and a bit dull.  The potential for aggressive seasoning and bold, punchy flavors seems absent at Lupulo, whereas the setting and the philosophy of the restaurant seem to just be crying out for just that  The shrimp atop were fresh and briny, spoon-tender and fat, but there wasn't much to make them stand out from the porridge, or vice-versa.  Same goes for a main course of grilled octopus, which failed to achieve much char, although the chickpea and black eyed peas underneath made a zestier  contribution.  Tart turnips, assertively pickled stood out a little too blatantly, although the did their part to brighten the pumpkin seed romesco.   Maybe we would've been better off with another version of the eight-legged marvel that the Portguese usually do so well, a squid cooked a la plancha with clams, blood sausage and paella-esque squid ink rice.  And a side dish of mushrooms was equally ho-hum; a palatable dish of fungus, I guess, but if anything a bit damp and listless, serving more as filler than feature. 

Desserts are simple and starchy for the most part, tasty little sweetnesses to finish off with.  The honeyed cheesecake we chose was just that, deftly composed and but not exactly earthshaking.  This is basically my take on Lupulo as a whole... it's a very striking and happy place to be, but the surroundings are more memorable than the food.  Which maybe the opposite case of Aldea.  Which THEN makes me wonder, perhaps, if I shouldn't learn how to say "repeat visit" in Portuguese. 

 835 6th Ave
(212) 290-7600

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