Oh boy, have I found the best date restaurant. You can call and thank me later when you're knocked up. ~LOLO~ in the Mission is totally your new secret weapon. And who would have thunk a Latin-Turkish fusion restaurant was going to be the ticket?
Folks who know me know how much I adore color. Lipstick red car? Check. Hot pink vintage jacket? Yes. Canary yellow shoes? I'll wear them out of the store, thank you, and whaddya know, I have the perfect bracelet to match at home. You'd think San Francisco hates color--like it's Kryptonite or something. So many restaurants here are studies in brown. And grey. Black. Maybe little hints of color here and there, but so many establishments are so safe, safe, safe. Lolo, meanwhile, is a straight-up riot of color. A veritable coup d'état. Viva la revolución!
This cozy restaurant moved into the former Vogalonga two-room space. The first room is full of four-tops with brightly upholstered bench seats, a wall of spoons, and seagull mirrors cut from old glass. Quirky! Room number two (the room built for hot dates) has a long bar with a top of newspaper printouts announcing winning lotteries, some luchador masks and cowboy boots along one wall and a pattern of salt bags along another, plus a series of tall oval mirrors with a peacock motif, and banquettes with a bright vintage graphic pattern. Wait until you go to the bathroom--let's just say you feel like you're in a Corona commercial.
Almost everything about the décor is made with recycled materials, it's inspiring. And very clever. One of the owners, Lorena Zerpuche, is the woman behind the look--she also designs restaurants and sassy furnishings. (Lolo is her nickname.) She owns a couple restaurants with her husband, Jorge Martinez, back in Guadalajara called i latina and Anita li--I heard there is a remarkable flea market there, which is a big inspiration for Lorena's design style. The third partner at Lolo is Merdol Erkal, who brings the Turkish and Mediterranean flair to the menu and concept.
The whole place makes me smile, hard, and the attentive and friendly service only builds the vibe. (You'd think I was snacking on Prozac or something.) Upon being seated, a complimentary roasted tomato and goat cheese spread arrives for you to slather on your bread (no, not on your date--hold on), and once your water is poured, the tall refillable bottle conveniently remains on the table.
The menu has about ten starters and five mains (none over $19)--it would be a fun spot to sit at the bar, graze through some apps over some glasses of wine, or you can dive in and do a traditional coursed meal. So even though I am selling this place as date HQ, singles would totally enjoy dining at the intimate bar. The space feels celebratory, so it could work well for small groups too, like birthday gatherings.
No matter what you're doing or who you're with, don't pass up the panko-crusted Georgian shrimp ($7.50) that come with a perky tropical relish and a drizzle of chipotle aioli. The kicker: you think it's tortilla the shrimp are resting in, but no: it's a thin round of jicama! Brilliant. This dish nails the balance of sweet, tangy, spicy, acidity, temperature, and texture. One of my favorite dishes of the year.
We also scarfed the octopus tiradito ($8), a plate of tender, thinly sliced octopus that looked like stained glass, sprinkled with Maras pepper (from Turkey), sea salt, a feisty Cascabel pepper aioli, and I detected a bit of sesame oil.
The apps section features a lot of seafood, including scallops, salmon, and calamari. We opted to try the huitlacoche and ricotta dumplings ($8), which came five to an order. The tender dumplings are made with gyoza wrappers, with a roasted pepper, squash blossom, and tomato sauce--but since squash blossom and tomatoes are all done now, I'm not sure what sauce they will be doing for the winter. The overall texture and flavor of this dish didn't pop like the other two apps, but the dumplings were still tasty enough.
Of the five entrées, we ordered the grilled halibut ($19)--it came a touch overdone, but we liked the flavors and the refreshing side salad with papaya, mango, and basil. There is also beef tongue ($15) on the menu with a curry sauce, which I want to return to try, along with duck confit tacos ($15) and grass-fed flank steak ($18). Everything is artfully presented, and while the portions aren't what I'd call hefty, I think they are just right for the price. The kitchen uses organic ingredients as much as possible (many come from Happy Boy Farms).
Desserts didn't totally captivate me, but they didn't turn me off either--one of the owners told me they are fine-tuning this section. We tried the apple with five spice layered in fried won ton wrappers, with vanilla ice cream, and there was also a small napoleon of mascarpone cheese, yerba buena (mint), quince, and a lavender sauce--I just craved a little crunch with this one.
There are 14 wines available by the glass, plus four ports. The list is more international than Californian--most bottles hover in the $30s. The staff is happy to suggest pairings.
The whole vibe is fun, eclectic, and easygoing, with music that is global, modern, and sultry. It all conspired to make me feel cheerful, and even if the food isn't perfect, it was unique and interesting and thoughtful. The entire experience made me happy. The last laugh is when you get your check (but I won't give the little flourish away). I can almost guarantee your date will go well at this place, unless you are both vegan because the tight menu will pose some choice challenges, or if you wear black on the outside because black is how you feel on the inside.
3234 22nd St.
Cross: Bartlett St.
b/w Mission and Valencia
San Francisco, CA 94110