It was a rainy stormy night last week and I had plans to meet my husband for dinner at Lupulo on 6th Avenue and 29th Street in midtown, just south of Herald Square and few blocks from Penn Station. As I am walking to the restaurant I was thinking to myself that I have not dined in this part of town recently, and mostly because there are not many dining options nearby. Lupulo is a much-needed addition to this neighborhood that lacks a vibrant restaurant scene.
Lupulo does not take reservations so we were expecting to wait for a bit, but as soon as we entered we were seated immediately, I guess the weather was a deterrent and we were lucky to get seated right away. As I enter the restaurant, I immediately forget the neighborhood and feel like I am in small coastal village in Portugal. The restaurant is dominated by a beautiful large U-shaped bar at the center with a raw bar right up front that beautifully displays the catch of the day. The side tables are small and casual with elegant white ceramic tiles. There are wonderful blue and white Portuguese ceramic tiles decorating the walls, similar to the pubs in Portugal. There are wire lanterns hanging from the ceilings and thick vertical ropes separating the room, reminding you of a fishing village, which all seem so appropriate for the seafood dominated menu.
Lupulo in Portuguese means Hops, like the flowers that are the key flavoring ingredient used in beer. The name is quite fitting, for the restaurant has close to 16 craft beers on tap. Chef George Mendes took inspiration for the restaurant from Portuguese cervejarias, or breweries, like those found in Lisbon, and hence the name Lupulo. The popularity and buzz around this restaurant is quite understandable as Portuguese food is quite under represented in the culinary scene of New York City. Lupulo is that perfect little piece of Portugal in the middle of this bustling city.
George Mendes, born in the US to Portuguese parents, is the esteemed Chef of the Michelin star restaurant Aldea. Chef Mendes opened Lupulo a few months back, focusing on a more casual, simple side of Portuguese cuisine. Mendes has trained under some of the most illustrious names in the culinary world, like David Bouley, Alain Ducasse. Roger Vergé and Martin Berasategui. Mendes took a departure from his more upscale restaurant Aldea in midtown, and opened Lupulo with the goal of bringing simple Portuguese cuisine in a tavern like atmosphere.
Having been a huge fan of Aldea I was extremely excited to try Lupulo. The menu is broken down into small plates of meats, seafood, salads and larger plates and entrees. We started off our meal with a mix of wonderful small plates of salted cod croquettes, crispy shrimp turnovers, jamon iberico,and clams with cilantro and garlic. For our entree we had the chicken frango piri piri and grilled octopus with chickpeas and turnips. Mendes does a wonderful job of blending typical Portuguese flavors with a simple rustic flare. The food was all fresh and served very simply, in my opinion lacking a bit in presentation but the flavors were mild and exquisite. The standouts of the night were the cod croquettes and the chicken piri piri. The cod croquettes were deliciously crispy on the outside and soft and delectable on the inside with a mix of potatoes and fish. The surprise of the evening was the chicken. Our server recommended trying the chicken with piri piri and it did not disappoint. Now I was not expecting much from the chicken, especially with all the fresh seafood on the menu, and so I was pleasantly surprised. The chicken was served with the skin on, and served with a side of piri piri in a small squiggy bottle. The piri piri was an incredible blast of spice on this perfectly grilled, slightly blackened chicken which was prepared just right; soft, moist, juicy and flavorful. This was definitely not your old boring chicken, it was a delicious, deeply satisfying hearty dish on cold rainy night. The jamon iberico was one of the best we have had, and that says a lot after just coming back from Spain and having jamon almost everyday of our travels.
The vibe at Lupulo is trendy, airy, energetic, fun and some have even said loud. The service is wonderful ,attentive and ready to please. The 16 beers on tap are definitely inspiring and interesting. So definitely try the beers as they are a perfect complement to the small plates. The wine list is dominated by Portuguese wine with very appealing prices. If looking for a fun casual night with great food, beer and wine, Lupulo will not disappoint.