There aren’t many Portuguese restaurants in NYC. I’ve been to George Mendes older NYC restaurant, Aldea, but found it a little too contrived. When ethnic restaurants try too hard to be high end, it often turns a little French and the cultural story is muddled. Lupulo, decorated with beer jugs on the window and giant rope knots along the door, tries to be no more than what it is – a place with good old Portuguese nosh and beer.
I don’t drink beer, but sparkling rose is always suitable in the summer!
The beer drinkers seemed to enjoy the local selection.
Carabineros 9/10: Carabineros are shrimp from the Mediterranean that are naturally colored bright red. It’s a popular special here at an eye popping $13 per shrimp. We had a big crowd, so we ordered 14 of them. The waitress asked us no fewer than 4 times if we’re sure that we want 14 shrimp at $13 EACH. It sounded like someone misunderstood and tried to send shrimp back to the kitchen before.
You might think that $182 is crazy for 2 trays of shrimp, but it’s really not if you end up not ordering those extra bottles of wine. I would eat these over drinking a 5x overpriced bottle of wine any day.
The meat is buttery like a scallop and has a lobster like flavor. After eating this shrimp, I could not go back to normal shrimp for the rest of the meal. It’s traditionally cooked with the head on, so you can suck out the juices. If you come across these shrimp at Lupulo or elsewhere, and you can afford it, you should definitely try them. Even at $13, I would get these again, because I have wasted many $13 on experiences less heavenly.
I gave this at 9/10 and not 10/10 because the price is a bit ridiculous. If they were $8 a pop, it would have been a 10 hands down. If they were $6, I would order nothing else, and just eat a pile and call it a meal!
Shrimp turnovers 6/10: Good. Nothing special. It could be because this course followed the carabineros, but were filled with regular shrimp.
Fava beans with Morel and blood sausage 8/10: I did not expect such rich flavor from a course where the first 2 words are “fava beans”, but it’s nothing like a summer salad. The beans bring out the umami of the blood sausage and rich morel mushrooms. The sausage has a toothsome consistency like a regular sausage., which makes me think that it’s a half-blood sausage. You can still taste the rich creaminess of the blood, but it does not have the chalky or sticky quality. The dish is extremely rich and fragrant.
Salt cod croquettes 7/10: The batter is very light and flakey, and the inside is well seasoned. They are at least as good as the other salt cod croquettes in the city. But later on in the meal, I realized that the restaurant can do so much better.
Asparagus and uni 4/10: Even the person who ordered this had to admit that it was an odd combination.
Charred cucumber and razor clams 4/10: I normally love razor clams, but it got a bit watery. I don’t know if it was the clams, the extra water from the cucumber, or the foam deconstructing, but it wasn’t a pleasant experience. Given the crunchiness of the salad, perhaps surf clam or geoduck would have held better. For some reason when I ordered this dish, I actually thought I would going to be served geoduck! My disappointment is mostly my own fault.
Soft shell crab 6/10: I love soft shell crab. The root vegetables are good, but the batter tastes like a donut.
Shrimp porridge 2/10: A couple professional reviews highly recommend this shrimp tomalley goo with soaked stale bread. Don’t do it. The bread disintegrates into textureless mush. I expected croutons, but this is just lumpy paste. The sauce would have been so much better pure or with some carbohydrate that didn’t melt. Yuck.
Salt cod casserole for two 8/10: This dish is for 4 if you ordered one appetizer (such as 2 carabineros each), and if you ordered anything more than that, it’s for 6. Under the layer of olives and crispy potatoes, is lots and lots of salt cod. It is very salty and oily, but addictive. The change from soft olives to crispy potatoes to flakey cod was too much for my mouth to handle, and I kept shoveling more food into my mouth against the complaints of the rest of my body. I would definitely order this just for the leftovers.
While staring at the leftovers, I had an idea. If I had more than a few bites left, I would coarsely chop this and batter it with a light panko mix, and then make them into salt cod croquettes where you can still taste the texture of the fish with every bite, it would be so amazing. I would schedule a pool party just to have that dish.
Or if I’m feeling lazy, I can put a warm poached egg with hollandaise sauce on top. It would be the best fish eggs benedict ever.
Fish stew 6.5/10: It’s a Portuguese bouillabaisse with sea bass, lobster (just a claw?), shrimp, clams, mussels, tuna, etc. The sauce is very good and perfect for dipping bread. It’s fun to eat, and is very clean for a fish stew because the components were cooked separately. I have trouble marking any fish stew over ~7 though, because I always find that having one or two components in the soup is more delicious than having so many. Unlike other dishes made of leftovers, the different components do little to enhance each other.
Goat terrine 9/10: Extremely tender perfect goat. I didn’t know that an animal that can climb up trees and eat shoes could have such tender meat!
Piri piri chicken 7/10: I can’t pinpoint when exactly the flavor of burnt ash became popular, but clearly it has. This chicken comes with a really spicy sauce! I think it’s to help you remember that the stripes on the meat are not skid marks, but scorched earth. Somehow the meat inside is extremely tender and juicy. I’m just a little overwhelmed by the fire on fire.
Portuguese egg tarts (Pastel de nata) 9/10: These are very similar to Chinese egg tarts . I was first introduced to egg tarts because they’re a staple at dim sum places. But Portuguese pastel de nata are the original. That makes sense since egg tarts are made with milk and butter. Milk and butter are not common in Eastern cuisine.
The dessert is a perfect balance of sweet and creamy. It’s much harder to cut than its Asian counterpart because the cream is slightly curdled (which is just a preference), and the top of the tart is creme brulee’d. As you can see from the tart I destroyed with a spoon that the custard is even and generous. The pastry on the outside is thin but flakey.
Lupulo exceeded my expectations. Spanish and Portuguese cuisine are so often about the freshness of the ingredients that it’s hard to imitate in our concrete jungle even at the hands of the most talented chefs. I love that Lupulo tries to keep everything traditional and sources ingredients that we would not otherwise be able to experience. Next time, if i go on a date, I will order 2 carabineros per person, the salt cod casserole for 2, and the egg tarts for dessert. That would leave very little need or want for anything else.