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The sign sets the scene for the interior atmosphere

I am no food connoisseur by any means (even though a girl can dream); I just have a serious love for food. I have traveled to many states and have been fortunate enough to travel to numerous countries. As much as I love to soak up the cultures and unique lifestyles of different places, food is ultimately what I am seeking 99% of the time; and with the ability to expand my global knowledge, I have also been able to expand my palette. Now, instead of eating food just to eat it, I appreciate it. In my ventures I have had my fair share of bad, and I mean bad, food, and I have also had great food. However, it is rare that I come across exceptional food, especially when it is in a chic environment, and paired with incomparable service. You might be wondering where I ventured to, to experience this outstanding meal. Believe it or not, a quick ten-minute trip brought me down 1A into Salem where I stopped in at Red Lulu and had one of the best meals to date.

It all began in Boston, where the Jamison siblings, Chris, Josh, Stephanie and friend Mark Malatesta opened Lolita Cocina and Tequila Bar. With Lolita receiving rave reviews after only being open a few months (they were named Improper Bostonian’s ‘Bars and Clubs: Hot Spot’ and Boston Magazine’s ‘People’s Choice: Best New Restaurant’) it was no question that the next step was to open another restaurant, and there was no better spot than to hit Salem, where the family has plenty of work and family history. As Stephanie stayed in Boston to focus on Lolita, Chris, Josh and Mark got to work, literally. Impressive as their menu and staff may be, what is even more impressive is that the owners put the restaurant together with their own hands. From the bathroom to the lighting in the bar, they had their vision and they executed it with no outside company or designer to help. Within only a matter of days Red Lulu was brought to life.

The vibe, as they refer to it, is “devilish chic” in every aspect. Plush couches, steel chandeliers combined with red wallpaper against black cement walls, eccentric music and nacho libre masks on display gives you your not-so-average, up-beat, stylish restaurant. You will feel as if you have walked into a high-end Boston restaurant, but the down-to-earth atmosphere makes even the most casual person feel at home.

Specializing in tequila, you bet that there is the excalibur of drinks. From a Margarita that is $100 and tastes like a pink Starburst to a shot that is $425, Lulu has exceptional tequilas that you won’t find anywhere else. But those are for the big nights out, if you are looking for casual cocktails I suggest trying the fan favorite, Spicy Cucumber ($12). The mixture of Don Julio Blanco, habanero infused vodka, patron citronge, fresh cucumber and lime brings out a sweet cocktail with a bit of bite. Every drink on their menu is extensive and includes at least four ingredients, most of which have the word “fresh” next to it. When they say fresh, they mean fresh. You will see the bartenders muddling a different type of fruit for almost every cocktail. Ingredients will make or break a drink, and the owners were not about to take that chance.

If the environment and drinks are not enough to sell you (they will), then the food will seal the deal. Leading the kitchen is Brian Roche, who can be seen at both Lolita and Red Lulu. Prior to Lolita and Lulu, Chef Roche was the Executive Chef and General Manager at La Verdad Taqueria in Boston. Under his direction, La Verdad was named one of the “Top Ten Restaurants to Try” by Food & Wine magazine in 2008. The restaurant was also named “Best Authentic Mexican Restaurant in the United States” by Bon Appetit, as well as received Boston Magazine’s “Best of Boston, Best Neighborhood Takeout” in 2008. personally recognized Brian in 2009 for his innovative Mexican cuisine. Long story short, if anyone knows Mexican cuisine, it is Brian Roche.

I got to meet Brian and try an array of items. In total he put together about eleven dishes for me, which didn’t include dessert. Every dish out did the last and at one point I caught myself smiling into my plate. If that is not a sign of true love for a meal, then I don’t know what is. Take my advice and try the Shrimp Ajillo. It is served with jumbo shrimp, garlic and chipotle, fresh lime, avocado, pink onions and fresh watercress. Again, emphasis on the fresh. All of the meals burst with flavor as I bit into them. The Ceviche, another recommendation, was prepared in three ways: Coco, Traditional and Sangrita. The Sangrita, which had lobster, scallops, tomato, fresh orange, chile oil and avocado was my personal favorite. I wasn’t digging around to find pieces of lobster meat, huge chunks filled the glass. Lastly, you have to try to the Iron Pan Corn Bread. Seems strange, as corn bread typically does not jump off the menu, but as Chef Roche described it, it has more of a bread pudding consistency so it does not crumble or fill you up before your meal. It comes with a roasted garlic sauce, an unusual twist, but provides an authentic taste.

Then came the desserts. Churros, fried ice cream, sorbet, bread pudding, you name it, every type of dessert was there, and naturally all had a Mexican twist. I tried a bite of each but was quickly distracted by the green cotton candy that was placed in front of me. After every meal, servers drop a huge portion of cotton candy topped with pop rocks to guests. A creative ending to a fantastic meal.

Overall, the experience exceeded every expectation I had. The Jamisons and Malatesta have thought of everything and anything that can make their restaurant unique, and then took it to the next level. Did I mention there were temporary ‘Red Lulu’ tattoos that came with the bill? Although more chic, the restaurant exudes fun and everyone that works there is determined to make sure you enjoy yourself, whether you’re in for casual drinks or a nice dinner.

Although only open for a few weeks, it is evident that they are doing very well and I predict many positive things for this new establishment. Before I left, I got a sneak peak at some future plans (sorry, no spoilers) and trust me this is one group of guys that you are going to want to follow.

Red Lulu is open daily from 5:00PM – 12:30AM and serves full menu until midnight. It is located at 94 Lafayette St., Salem, MA. (978) 594-4282