Back when Lulav first opened a couple of years ago, we wanted to like it. The restaurant was expanding the boundaries of downtown by offering dinner on Sixth Street, where few other nighttime venues dared to venture. It occupied a casually elegant space in a terrific old building. And it promised a sophisticated and exotic menu, specializing in “California Sephardic Fusion Cuisine,” which was unique for Little Rock.
But we ate there a couple of times, and the food wasn’t that good, so we never went back.
Now, however, Lulav is under new ownership and management. The original chef is gone, replaced by Heather Keeton, who doubles as the general manager. Soon, the restaurant’s name and menu will reflect the change, but Keeton is intentionally making a gradual transition.
“We didn’t want to change so drastically because there was such a scarce population of guests when we took over,” Keeton said.
So Keeton introduced the V Lounge, a comfortable assemblage of couches, carpets, and pillows just off the dining area. For the time being, the V Lounge is a place for drinks and appetizers, but eventually it will be the name of the establishment itself. (Keeton says the “V” comes from a company called VSurance that is operated by the new owners of the restaurant.)
The V Lounge has adopted the “reverse happy hour” already in place at Lulav, which offers premium cocktails for $3 after 10 p.m. There is live music every night, with acoustic on Fridays and a DJ on Saturdays. The kitchen stays open late to serve special V Lounge appetizers, like lump crab nachos ($8), cinnamon and nutmeg sea scallops ($9), artichoke and tomato bruschetta ($6) and shrimp cocktail ($9).
On a recent Friday night, we arrived at 8 p.m. for dinner and ate at one of several tables set up in the V Lounge. The menu included dishes that were Lulav signatures, like the Israeli barbeque breast of chicken ($12) and coconut prawns with pineapple chutney ($22).
Under Keeton’s hand (she trained at Johnson & Wales), the food was much better than we remembered from our earlier experiences. The chicken was tender and its sauce was the right blend of tangy and spicy. The artichoke and tomato bruschetta appetizer was generously dolloped with the vegetable mixture, and a special lettuce wrap appetizer was delicious. Another special that night, a beef tenderloin salad with blue cheese, also hit the right notes.
Soon Lulav/V Lounge will continue its transition by introducing a new menu that is geared toward Spanish and Mediterranean dishes. A draft provided by Keeton shows appetizers like littleneck clams with saffron, white wine and fresh herbs, and “tortitas de camarones,” which are crunchy shrimp pancakes with cardamom and pear glace. Entrees will include chicken stuffed with couscous, dried currants and pine nuts, wood planked tuscan salmon with dill and lemon zest orzo, and cilantro pesto lamb chops served with fresh mint and buerre blanc.
One sign that Keeton knows what she is doing is that the new menu retains some of the best Lulav dishes, like its distinctive crab cakes. And the restaurant still has its comprehensive wine list, which is one of the best in town.
This is a change for the better, it seems, with an able chef at the helm and an interesting menu that will continue to develop. It’s encouraging to know that the location may finally realize its potential with a good concept that will bring customers in throughout the evening. Lulav/V Lounge is around the corner from the Arkansas Repertory Theatre, making it a great place to go before or after a performance.
220 W. 6th St.
With a new chef, Lulav/V Lounge is realizing its potential. A new dinner menu is promising, and the lounge offers drinks, appetizers and live music every night until closing.
5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Wednesday, 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. Thursday through Friday and 5 p.m. to midnight Saturday.
Moderate to expensive prices. Full bar. Credit cards accepted.