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Restaurant review: Lulu elevates the museum cafe, hammers home environmentally conscious menu

The Hammer Museum’s newest addition is the restaurant Lulu, which was opened by chefs Alice Waters and David Tanis. Founded upon a basis of environmental sustainability, the eatery features an a la carte menu and a three-course prix fixe menu. (Anika Chakrabarti/Assistant Photo editor)

Lulu

10899 Wilshire Boulevard

Los Angeles, CA 90024

By Isabella Durgin

Nov. 14, 2021 10:00 p.m.

Lulu is lightening up Westwood’s palate.

Spearheaded by chefs Alice Waters and David Tanis, the restaurant opened Thursday at the Hammer Museum. Dedicated to sustainable practices, local sourcing and regenerative agriculture, Lulu marks food activist Waters’ first Los Angeles location and newest restaurant in 40 years – and the food came prepared to impress.

Simple and clean, the restaurant feels distinctly autumnal, with assorted fall fruits including persimmons and plums adorning a large family size table at the entrance. With baskets scattered as if laid out for a Thanksgiving meal, the decoration presents a lived-in ambiance. Also entirely open air, the space has outdoor seating and a hybrid, roof-covered area closer to the bar. The construction feels as natural as the food, with the organic layout allowing the crisp air to waft in.

Conscious of its location within a museum, the stripped-down food and ever-so-slightly rustic atmosphere take pains to not distract from the pieces within the Hammer’s walls. Lulu could have felt like just another traveling collection visiting the museum, which frantically rotates from displaying centuries-old works to platforming emerging contemporary artists. Avoiding this pitfall, the restaurant instead heightens the Hammer’s clean, marble exterior, with its simple gray ceramic dishes – made by alumnus Shoshi Watanabe – and soothing green cushions accented by existing red metal lanterns and textile touches over the bar.

[Related: Restaurant review: Primo’s Donuts caters to its college audience, diverse options sweeten experience]

But while the addition may fit snugly within the fabric of the museum, it is doubtful that it will become a stop on the viewing experience for most patrons. The restaurant demands a level of elegance that Bruins frequenting the Hammer, which strives to serve its college-aged residents, may not want to embrace on a casual art excursion.

Atmosphere aside, the formal sit-down format could also deter everyday museumgoers, setting the Hammer aside from other museums with casual, quick cafes. While menu items such as an iced tea at the Getty Center or the Huntington Museum of Art may be overpriced, these cafes seek to satisfy quick cravings or quench a visitor’s thirst. But Lulu embarks on another journey entirely.

(Anika Chakrabarti/Assistant Photo editor)
Lulu features both outdoor seating and rooftop-covered indoor seating. The interior features autumnal decorations with both crimson and sage green accents. (Anika Chakrabarti/Assistant Photo editor)

Currently only open for lunch from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., Lulu offers an a la carte menu and a three-course prix fixe menu at $45. With the date atop each menu, the restaurant emphasizes that the offerings change daily alongside their seasonal shifts. Such a temporary item, however, invokes queries into the space’s sustainable pledge because, no matter the material, the menus can be only used for a single day. Although boldly proclaiming sustainable sourcing, the papers’ single-use nature brings into question if Lulu’s mission is restricted to only the food itself, rather than fully committing to environmentalism across the board.

[Related: Restaurant review: Bluestone Lane offers a taste of Melbourne’s coffee culture]

On opening day, heart-warming dishes took center stage, such as a $12 hearty black bean soup that was spiced so smoothly its flavors melded into one. Its portion size was larger and its taste significantly more rewarding than the more expensive, smaller eggplant “banh mi” that was placed within a focaccia exterior. Typically served with a Vietnamese baguette, the twist on a Vietnamese dish failed to fuse with its overpoweringly smoky eggplant and clashing textures. The crunch of the focaccia wasn’t as forgiving as the traditional baguette and felt discordant with the much softer eggplant. Balanced in the middle were the pickled vegetable toppings, which emerged as the dish’s saving grace and were one of the few features that remained true to the banh mi’s original form.

But by following the pomegranates, diners won’t be disappointed. The autumnal fruit threaded across the menu, appearing on both menus in a salad, atop a dessert and as a drink. Not bogged down by sugar like typical soft drinks, the fruit soda was refreshing and its flavor clear. Despite its $8 price, the deeply pigmented drink is as beautiful as it is the perfect companion for the menu.

For a selection dotted with wild mushrooms and prosciutto that averages at about $15 per item, Lulu’s pricing does do an exceptional job at making organic, sustainable food accessible. Offering an additional 10% student discount on their prix fixe, the restaurant still aligns with the Hammer’s principle of serving UCLA as well as the diverse demographics of greater Los Angeles but could easily feel too elevated and ward off visitors. Within museum walls, Lulu strives to be a model for food’s future, supporting local farmers and offering familiar food.

It’s just up to Bruins whether the space between the frames can feel like home.

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Isabella Durgin | Daily Bruin senior staff
Durgin is a senior staff writer for Arts & Entertainment. She previously served as the Music | Fine Arts editor from 2021-2022 and was an Arts contributor from 2020-2021. She is a third-year English and geography student from Meridian, Mississippi.
Durgin is a senior staff writer for Arts & Entertainment. She previously served as the Music | Fine Arts editor from 2021-2022 and was an Arts contributor from 2020-2021. She is a third-year English and geography student from Meridian, Mississippi.
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