Lola, tucked between Washington Avenue and St. Charles Street on 14th Street, seems to position itself as a sort of hipster/neighborhood restaurant. The website wants viewers to think about edginess, but on a window of the long, narrow restaurant, it talks about “neighborhood nosh.” And we understand that on weekends, when there's live music in the southernmost room, it can be loud and service sometimes suffers. That said, our weeknight visit was downright sedate, leading us to think this might be a possibility for dinner before Savvis Center events and those happening at the long-awaited reopening of Kiel Opera House, its ownership now cashing in on the sale of its name to a major polluter, the Peabody Coal Company. (However, we suspect operas will be performed there infrequently; it will be a concert/theater venue.)
Lola's layout is unusual. The St. Charles end, the largest, also overlooks remodeling work on the St. Louis Public Library; it includes a large bar and a stage for musical entertainment. At the other end, facing Washington Avenue, is an "absinthe bar," and between them are two dining areas, the restaurant stair-stepping from one to the other. It's interesting visually, but tricky to navigate for those who experiment too long with the interesting cocktail list. (But Lola, darling, cava is not Champagne; it's sparkling wine from Spain.)
Plenty of lighter fare is designed to go with the libations, like a surprisingly different version of fried calamari. The batter makes it looks as though it's going to be heavy, but it turns out to be not only light but also seasoned with moderate zip. The squid themselves are tender, and arrive with what's called a tandoori aioli. Fries are offered as an appetizer, but we went for something more exotic, "snails and tails." Escargot are served in a traditional dish with indentations for the snails and the classic garlic butter. Lola, however, tops the snails with crawfish tails, generously sprinkled with crunchy panko crumbs, just the thing to soak up a sauce which seems to contain browned butter holding hands with the garlic. Surprising, and tasty, too.
Sandwich options look interesting, including a couple of vegetarian selections, like the Medusa, which brings a spinach and feta spread atop munster, white cheddar and mozzarella cheeses, plus some roasted tomato. Grilled on sourdough, it provided a day's worth of calcium in its wonderful, rich gooeyness. The fries that came with it offered a strange examples of fries that aren't crisp, yea, even soggy, but still taste good and very potato-ey. They were helped by a really excellent aioli, a near-perfect garlic mayonnaise. Not subtle, for sure, but incredibly good.
Duck with pomegranate sauce seemed like a good pairing, and turned out to be just that. The duck breast, sliced, came medium-rare, and the tart, slightly bitter pomegranate was a fine foil to the rich meat. It was joined by an unusual onion relish, as well as an unremarkable wild rice mix, useful for wiping up the last of the sauce.
The only dessert choice was a chocolate-banana crème brulee. No discernible banana flavor, and the top layer was barely melted, and mostly not caramelized.
A passable by-the-glass wine list as well as the aforementioned cocktail list. Our server was in near-constant movement as the only person on the floor, yet she covered a half-dozen tables without breathing hard.
400 N. 14th St.
Lunch Tues.-Sun, Dinner nightly, Brunch Sat.-Sun.
Credit cards: Yes
Wheelchair access: Fair