#2 Best New Restaurant of 2018: Lupo on Arlington
The drive to Lupo can be a little intimidating. Nestled in Upper Arlington, the path to its door winds around ginormous million dollar mansions with professionally manicured lawns. It’s not the cookie cutter track stuff, it’s the real deal. Right in the middle of all this majesty is a walkable little island of shops and eateries, almost a private, secret mecca at which there are no Walmart shoppers. And that’s exactly where Lupo set up shop.
The restaurant’s digs originally housed a banking business, but the only tell-tale sign that remains is the heavy metal vault door at the back of the establishment. Otherwise, Lupo boasts a combo of crisp lines teamed with a comforting darker burgundy color scheme, it’s equipped with both booths and high tables.
There’s a chalkboard with specials, and a menu that features some fixed favorites. Or at least, they’re as “fixed” as things get at Lupo. The project promises to change its menu seasonally, and the owner’s record at La Tavola indicates Lupo will deliver on those promises.
So, for now, things are disturbingly delicious and nicely priced. You can try lots of different things without breaking the bank. In fact, you should try lots of different things, as the portions are mini-sized, and designed for small plate adventures.
Shall we, then?
The Spring Salad ($5), at the top of the menu, features velvety greens, peas (snow and snap), asparagus, and shaved pecorino all tied together with a vinaigrette. It’s an uncommonly thoughtful, balanced combo of fresh vegetables, with the peas providing a subtle sweetness and pop that makes the rest of the components sing.
The Empanada ($8) is a cut above the average, both in terms of the tenderness of the pastry and the soft stewed beef inside. Its coconut curry sauce gives it a complexity that makes you eat it slower to better appreciate each mouthful.
The Lamb Meatballs ($9) have a reputation that precedes them — and it’s a good reputation. Teamed with distinctly dill yogurt and pickled onions, it’s the sum of the parts that gives the whole offering a savory brightness not typically associated with any sort of meat dish.
It’s worth hoping that some of the chalkboard specials aren’t so special that they can’t be offered repeatedly. Case in point: the Ham and Cheese Croquettes. First, they are insanely cheap ($3). That said, the portion is also small: three little croquettes, about the size of malted milk balls. You could pop a whole one in your mouth, but that would be a terrible waste of a buck. Instead, we’ll suggest wedging off bites with the side of your fork. The croquettes cut easily without smashing, and the exterior is composed of relentlessly crunchy bits that give way to an uncommonly, intense cheese and ham flavor experience. The croquettes sit in a salty cream sauce that magnifies everything wonderful about them.
While we’re in the croquette business, there are also Cod Fritters ($5). They’re bigger than the croquettes, but no less perfectly circular and crunchy. The fritters are also milder and served with an eggplant caponata that is sweet enough to be reminiscent of a pickle relish.
And, there’s the Tortilla Primavera ($12). It is not a tortilla at all, at least by midwestern standards. It’s a frittata, but way fluffier. The egg dish, caramelized at the edges, holds bits and bots of snap peas and tender nuggets of asparagus (a throwback to the salad), ramps, parmesan, some bonus potato cubes, and a drizzle of salsa verde, comparable to a creamy pesto.
Those who like raw things can venture into the oyster bar. Those who want a pre-commitment to sharing can investigate plates of cheese and charcuterie or epic cuts of meat designed for a table (“Large Format” items). Service is super-fancy and attentive; not in the trendy fawning style, but in the TCB/GSD consummate professional style, a nice switch-up in the local scene.
There’s a wine and cocktail menu that completes the picture. The creative cocktails feature ingredients that range from house-made ginger and carrot tonic to strawberry-jalapeño syrup.
While service is not slow, the flavors in the dishes encourage a certain slowness in dining. You don’t want to miss a single thing in gulping or wolfing. You can find it at 2124 Arlington Ave.
For more information, lupoonarlington.com.