Ivo & Lulu: A Very Quirky Un-New York Go-To
This was the type of place I’d come close to living in as a student in Philadelphia. BYOB, itty-bitty, lively, cheap, and stuffed with good and unusual food, Ivo & Lulu steps outside the pricey over-designed haute New York scene and wows with its originality. Located just a hop from the Holland Tunnel, this barely-in-Soho spot offers French-Caribbean home-cookin’. It’s hot, crowded, cramped, and rollickin’; with so few tables, good luck nabbing one without a reservation or waiting a long while for the already packed-in parties to vacate.
The tiny space is dark and sweaty when it’s busy, mimicking conditions in hot sultry Caribbean joints. The few harried servers rush through table obstacles and a minefield of purses, feet, and chair legs. The brusque hostess/waitress just asks you to ‘wait, wait’ for a table will free up eventually. The decor? Essentially non-existent, consisting of stars tacked to the walls, thrown askew, marching across furniture.
You’re guaranteed to be surprised by the quality of the food streaming out of the closet-sized ‘open’ kitchen stuffed into the back. It’s what I’d call funky French – classic French blended with Caribbean flavors; classic Caribbean cuisine blended with French technique. Whatever you call it, it’s a fusion mash-up of two different yet complementary cuisines. The menu rotates according to chef Sebastian Aubert’s whim, but you can expect hot and steamy slow-cooked and simmered dishes, chunky terrines, sausages soaked in complex savory sauces, and game dishes loaded with fruit flavors, multi-layered sauces, and spices. If you’re lucky, you’ll catch the Terrine de Venison, a venison pate showered in truffle oil that keeps you craving it for weeks after.
Ivo & Lulu isn’t delicate or sophisticated. Rather, it’s rough-around-the-edge home cookin’ with bold and unusual flavors, surprising technical preparations, and heart-warming depth. The food isn’t meant to be eaten daintily with multiple forks and a crisp white table-cloth – chow down, enjoy it, savor it, let the sauces drip a little. And the best part? You’ll get all of this good clean food-stuffed fun for an incredible value ($9-16 per dish). Not to mention, you don’t even have to worry about added drink costs – Ivo & Lulu is BYOB with no corkage fee!
Perfect for a date with a fun-loving and laidback type or, if you’re patient, a rowdy and congenial dinner with friends, Ivo & Lulu strips away the decorous face of New York dining to bring it down to earth.