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Cafe luluc -- fresh Smith Street horrors

I don't want it to seem like I hate all the restaurants in my neighborhood -- I have a schoolgirl crush on Brucie, Hibino is almost always delightful, ditto Bocca Lupo, Char No. 4 hits the spot when fat and meat are called for, the pizzas at Enoteca on Court are good etc. etc. But we have some real duds and perhaps futilely I feel an ongoing duty to warn.

Despite having in lived in the area on and off since '03, I'd never set foot inside Cafe Laluc, which strikes me as being one of the older survivors on Smith Street, until the other night. Don't know what made me go in, but I was curious. Had a special of fish and chips with chipotle tartar sauce. The fish was ok, if tasteless, but the frying oil was anything but fresh, and tasted it. The chipotle tartar sauce was neither -- just a soupy tasteless green mayo thing -- I asked for some vinegar, but it didn't really improve matters. A glass of chardonnay reminded me of the wine they used to give away for free in an all you can drink special at a Chinese restaurant on the UWS beloved in my youth because they didn't card. Weirdly, despite being grossed out by my main course, and feeling vaguely ill from the nasty tasting oil, I decided I wanted dessert. Wanting something hard to screw up, I got an affogato -- but the espresso lacked all body and richness and the vanilla ice cream was ridden with crunchy ice crystals. Finally fed up with the utter terribleness of the food and the cynicism that seems to be at the heart of such places that are utterly indifferent to the product they serve, I mentioned the ice crystals to the waiter (who'd been of an indifference and carelessness of a piece with the cooking throughout the meal) and his response was "Are you sure?"

How does such a place possibly stay in business, and what's more thrive -- for years?

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Hibino
333 Henry St, Brooklyn, NY 11201

Bocca Lupo
391 Henry St, Brooklyn, NY 11201

Char No. 4
196 Smith St, Brooklyn, NY 11201

Enoteca on Court
347 Court St, Brooklyn, NY 11231

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  1. Cobble Hill/Carroll Gardens are among the worst restaurant nabes in NYC. I should know- I've lived here for over ten years. The food quality here is simply criminal- pretty much everything is mediocre-to-garbage. I know people will weigh in with examples of how I'm wrong- but I'm not.

    The places you mentioned as standouts- (Char # 4?? Enoteca?!?)- really aren't-- more like best of a bad bunch.

    And Smith Street is Ground Zero of this culinary wasteland, the epicenter of shitty dining options.

    I wish I knew why the food is so bad here. I swear this place is cursed.

    17 Replies
    1. re: twan55

      Well, in between stints in CH/CG, I lived in Park Slope, and there's actually more I like to eat on this side of the Gowanus, and before moving to CG in '03, I lived on the UWS at 100th Street, and before that 2nd Avenue/75th Street, before that the wasteland that was/is Brooklyn Heights -- i.e., a lot of dire restaurant nabes. What's different about Smith Street is that there's so many really bad restaurants that stay in business for a long time and are even popular. Don't get it.

      To be clear, I never characterized Char No. 4 or Enoteca as "standouts", but they each do things well that I like -- Char for after-work bar dining w/ drinks, and Enoteca for pizza delivery.

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      Char No. 4
      196 Smith St, Brooklyn, NY 11201

      1. re: Elaine Snutteplutten

        Geez, you've really lived in every food wasteland in the city, haven't you?

        I personally wouldn't characterize CG as a food wasteland (too much italian character for that) but i do find the smith st dining scene mediocre at best, with perhaps a couple of exceptions.
        I wasn't impressed with Char No 4, but I agree with you about Enoteca--tho only the pizza. I like their pizza a lot. (it helps that it's around the corner from us and they are v nice to our kids)

        That said, I have eaten often at Cafe Luluc, tho never for dinner. It was a great brunch option when it first opened--decent egg dishes accompanied by very good fries and very good pancakes. It has gone downhill since and the food has become indifferent, but I still go for breakfast sometimes because it's pretty cheap. I've never had fries done in bad oil, tho I have had them underdone. I don't drink coffee, so don't have an opinion there.

        I don't know anyone who eats dinner at Luluc--it's strictly a "meet for eggs benedict during the week" type of place. I can only imagine that their dinner is awful. And no, I would never order wine there.

        Sorry about your experience.

        -----
        Cafe Luluc
        214 Smith St, Brooklyn, NY 11201

        1. re: missmasala

          Yeah, I can't tell you why I went in there, I don't know anyone who eats there either. But it's less than 100 yards from my house... Interesting that C.L. may survive on their daytime business -- I am not around the 'hood much during the day.

          I've never had anything but the pizza from Enoteca -- thanks for the heads up -- will not vary.

      2. re: twan55

        I can't speak to the OP's specific experience at Luluc, but the notion of CH & CG being "among the worst restaurant nabes in NYC" is thoroughly exaggerated. I have lived here for 15 years, and when I first moved here there was nothing. Now we have Saul, Po (or whatever it's called now), Buttermilk Channel, Frankie's, Prime Meats, The Grocery, and others I cannot think of right off the bat. Yes, there are mediocre places that are all about atmosphere with food as an afterthought, but there are many places like that throughout NYC, no?

        It's fair to share a specific experience and to trash a restaurant that deserves it, but let's keep some perspective. There are many food wastelands in NYC, but CH & CG are not among them.

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        Buttermilk Channel
        524 Court St, Brooklyn, NY 11231

        Prime Meats
        465 Court St, Brooklyn, NY 11231

        1. re: BklnChicken

          I have to agree w/you, BklnChicken. I've lived in CG since '95, and I think among the dreck we have some really good, standout restaurants. (I mean seriously, would one consider CG/CH worse than, say, the UES in Manhattan? Yikes.)

          I had dinner at Luluc a couple years ago and it was pretty horrible, plus the service was pretty apathetic. Brunch used to be good there, but I haven't been in a while so I really can't say.

          1. re: BklnChicken

            -Name one good Thai restaurant in CH/CG.
            -Name one good Chinese restaurant in CH/CG.
            -Name one good Indian restaurant in CH/CG.
            -Name one good Mexican restaurant in CH/CG.
            -Name one good Vietnamese restaurant in CH/CG.
            -Name one good Italian restaurant in CH/CG (There, I said it. Sorry, but even the Italian places around here are not all that. Quantity doesn't equal quality.)
            -Name one good bakery in CH/CG. (And no, Mazzola is not a good bakery. I have no idea why people rave about that place- it's incredibly average.)

            These neighborhoods- as far as eating goes- are terrible. I know- you're going to make a list to try and prove me wrong, but it won't work. Anything you'll offer by way of a counter will be- imo- decidedly mediocre. I've tried it all.

            The best I can say about any restaurant in the vicinity is: "it's o.k." Buttermilk Channel? I suppose if you want a sit-down meal (after waiting an hour in a super loud room) it'll do, but sometimes you just want to pick something up. And it's not even great for dining; the Good Fork is the best proper restaurant around (and it's in Red Hook).

            Whatever- if you're happy with the food here then good for you.

            I think it's sinister.

            1. re: twan55

              Thai: Em has some delicious food, and is one of the few Thai restaurants that can transport me back to Thailand.
              Italian: Frankies and Lunetta are both delicious Italian.
              Mexican: Calexico has the BEST burrito in NYC hands down.

              Ok, CH/CG doesn't come with a breadth of styles, but it has a number of very good restaurants, especially many that have been at the forefront of the "brooklyn" school of food. But I think your expectations are too high. No neighborhood fits your criteria.

              What about looking at it in context. Name another neighborhood with better restaurants, transportation (i.e. 3 stops to chinatown) and grocery stores?

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              Calexico
              122 Union St, Brooklyn, NY 11231

              1. re: twan55

                Since many of us range well beyond our home neighborhoods, let's take it beyond Cobble Hill and Carroll Gardens. It would be helpful if you'd tell us which restaurants in all those categories, Brooklyn and beyond, leave the best neighborhood options in the dust.

                  1. re: twan55

                    Given the encyclopedia of failure you've just written, would love to know of any place you might consider better than OK in, say, any nabe west of Park Slope and east of Erie Basin. Maybe so we can get a sense of your standards and tastes--so we all can play this game.

                    1. re: bob96

                      "encyclopedia of failure" is hilarious.

                    2. re: twan55

                      I'm just confused as to what you hoped to accomplish with this post.

                      1. re: twan55

                        Ferdinando's on the other side of the BQE is amazing. Depends what you get, but classic and worth the trek. Frankie's is mediocre. Prime Meats is amazing. Calexico: all right. Brucie: great. Fragole: decent. Pacifico: does the deed. Seersucker: so-so. The Grocery and Saul: expensive but worth it. But other than that, it can be hit-or-miss. But that said, it beats almost any other neighborhood I can think of all around.

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                        Fragole
                        394 Court St, Brooklyn, NY 11231

                        Calexico
                        122 Union St, Brooklyn, NY 11231

                        Prime Meats
                        465 Court St, Brooklyn, NY 11231

                        1. re: twan55

                          Sheesh. I have lived in CG for many years now so I have seen the food experience go upward. I am at a loss as to realize the venom in your characterizations. Perchance where is the mecca of food located? Perhaps you should think of moving.

                          1. re: twan55

                            this poster is entitled to his her own opinion but the lack of good asian food is common to all of downtown brooklyn - its hardly surprising that there is a lack on CH/CG, a historic non-asian neighborhood. Nothing "sinister" about this lack its just a NY reality that good asian food is not found outside asian neighborhoods.

                            In Brooklyn however we are luckily easily able to travel to both Manhattan and Sunset Park chinatowns as well as to sunset park for Mexican. Indian food, well everybody in Brooklyn is in the same boat on this. As a non CH/CG resident, I dont know all the Italians over there, but Frankies 457 has been pretty pleasing when I have been.

                            Mazzola's is good as a neighborhood italian bakery and has some good items.Marquet ditto of its type. Without knowing what Twan55 looks for in a good bakery its hard to respond.

                            If takeout is wanted, especially Asian well yes its not an ideal neighborhood, What Brooklyn neighborhood is? Sounds like Queens beckons.

                        2. re: twan55

                          @twan55: Do you like any restaurants? If so... where? Just curious... seems you have faults with a lot of places.

                        3. i ate here twice, once for a friend's birthday party back in maybe 2001 or 2002, and another time in 2003 when i was at an art gallery opening down the street. i remember the food being really quite good - not something i suppose i bothered returning for again (i lived in williamsburg) but it certainly wasn't the horror story you've described. the restaurant was lively and full of people, though that's not always an indication of the food quality. the friend whose birthday it was (and who had suggested it for the celebration) is something of a food-obsessed person as well, so it's likely that quality has gone down considerably over the past seven years. that's unfortunate, but i've seen it happen to many of my former favorite places.

                          luckily, it's NYC - and there are always new local joints to patronize.

                          1. I think Cafe Luluc, like many other mediocre places on Smith, survives on the overflow of other, better restaurants. I remember when the boom really started down there, and was always surprised to see bad restaurants full until I was faced with the choice between waiting over an hour at the place I wanted to go, or walking across the street and sitting right down.

                            -----
                            Cafe Luluc
                            214 Smith St, Brooklyn, NY 11201

                            4 Replies
                              1. re: Elaine Snutteplutten

                                Cafe Luluc can be--has been--great at dinner. But like Robin du Bois and that other place up Smith, the swank hipster place, the name escapes me, it's really hit-or-miss. But the steak has been great at times.

                                -----
                                Cafe Luluc
                                214 Smith St, Brooklyn, NY 11201

                                1. re: osh

                                  It's funny that you mention Robin du Bois. That's the other restaurant in a 100 yard radius of my house that I've never set foot in, despite almost doing so, many times.

                                  1. re: Elaine Snutteplutten

                                    That's another place that can be really good or really frustrating, depending on when you go. The food is pretty good, not great. The service is.... let's just say French. I really like their skirt steak with potato gratin.

                                    Give it a try on an off hour.... if you go on Friday night it's a little bit much. But it's worth a try in general.

                            1. by the way i love living in this neighborhood...i just dont eat in it...thats how i like it....i cook or eat something out i really love

                              1. I had dinner there recently. So-so burger. Pressed pulled pork sandwich was really good. I've been there for brunch a few times and really like it.

                                Not sure why you ordered fish and chips at a bistro, but I'm not surprised it wasn't very good. And the wine is terrible--typical generic bistro plonk.

                                As for the food in CG/CH being terrible I think that's absurd. I'd love to hear what Brooklyn nabe has better overall food. Please tell me.

                                The Thai, Chinese, Mexican, , Indian, Vietnamese are all mediocre like every non-ethnic area of Brooklyn. And Mazzola is awesome in my opinion. Pasta at Fragole is great (haven't been in a year or so). Pizza at Lucali is really really good.

                                -----
                                Lucali
                                575 Henry St, Brooklyn, NY 11231

                                Fragole
                                394 Court St, Brooklyn, NY 11231

                                3 Replies
                                1. re: MRich

                                  Ordered fish and chips because it was a special of the day, and the gentleman at the next table said it was wonderful. Chacun a son gout....

                                  1. re: Elaine Snutteplutten

                                    If its fish & chips you want, in the area you have to stick with the Chip Shop.

                                    1. re: Bkeats

                                      or skip the fish and get the chicken mushroom pie. Yum.