Restaurant review: Lupo on Arlington

G.A. Benton

This deserves to be blurted out: Lupo on Arlington is easily one of the best new Columbus restaurants to open this year.

At Lupo, owner Rick Lopez — he's also the chef and owner of estimable La Tavola in Grandview — has passed the baton to Todd Elder, his talented protege. Elder, a veteran of Barcelona Restaurant & Bar, has crafted one of the most appealing menus in town. This menu is frequently updated, but you can bank on its dishes tasting delicious.

Here's another thing you can bank on: Lupo's enticing beverage options change often, too. But expect a smart, food-friendly, reasonably priced wine list, plus terrific seasonal cocktails.

From the latter group, the pretty-in-pink Oaxacan Pomelo ($12) is a citrus and tequila drink with a refreshingly bitter Campari finish. For something less austere, try the easy to love Boogie Nights ($12), made with local gin, cantaloupe, cucumber and prosecco.

Speaking of “bank,” the space Lupo occupies formerly housed one. Now its burgundy walls, black booths and puny, blonde, wooden two-top tables form the attractive setting for a spirited, sometimes-loud eatery with a cute bar backed by white subway tiles. Bonus: A scenic little patio is offered.

Spain-celebrating Lupo emphasizes seafood — fresh oysters are regularly shucked near the bar — and boldly flavored small plates. But you'll also find whopping platters of skillfully roasted meats.

Before scanning the chalkboard specials and the freeform, potentially dizzying menu, I recommend ordering the delightful Jamon y Queso Croquetas ($3 for three) — golden-brown, ping-pong-ball-sized croquettes filled with Serrano ham and Manchego cheese, and served with the Spanish answer to pimento cheese.

As you nibble on these, plot a game plan. If dining with three or more people, ordering one or two “large-format,” chalkboard entrees to share is a canny strategy. If not in a group — or while waiting on the long-cooking, large-format extravaganzas to arrive — begin dabbling with the tapas. And order a basket of house bread ($1 for focaccia), because Lupo's dishes generally feature outstanding, chili-kissed, garlic-enhanced sauces.

Lupo's latest menu, released earlier this month, lists a dish of charred romaine, asparagus, zucchini, tangy romesco sauce and more ($8). It's prettily plated and fun, but for less money, the larger, smoky and “meaty” charred maitake mushrooms ($7) are so good that I didn't mind they were oily on one occasion. The multi-sauced, crisp-fried fingerling potatoes are substantial and addictive, as well (Papas Fritas, $6).

The fantastic piquant sauce flattering the Gambas al Ajillo — three plump and sweet, poached butterflied shrimp — is nearly worth the $14 price tag alone. Lupo's sublime Octopus a la Plancha ($13) is even better: a deconstructed paean to paella with a crisp-yet-malleable toasted saffron-rice crepe, smoky Spanish chorizo discs, peas and succulent grilled octopus.

Carnivores should target the excellent Mediterranean-style Lamb Meatball ($10) — a crisp falafel cake topped with a tender ground-lamb globe drenched in spicy tomato sauce and garnished with yogurt, pea tendrils and pickled onions. Surf-and-turf fans should pick the pleasant Pork and Clams ($12), with sweet citrus notes and al dente gigante beans.

Pork and beans reappear in spectacular, huge fashion in the carve-it-yourself Crispy Duroc Pork Shank ($38), a large entree with a compelling warm black bean puree, slightly under-roasted heirloom carrots and lusty meat beneath a scene-stealing, sugar-and-spice-rubbed “bark” that snaps like peanut brittle.

For something from the same category but much lighter, the fragrant, tender, highly recommended whole roasted chicken and onions ($32) with citrus pan sauce and zippy chimichurri might be the juiciest bird in Columbus.

Room for improvement: Tapas come out quickly but the personable, knowledgeable and often overtaxed servers occasionally disappear — and on one visit, some dishes failed to arrive. Fortunately, the accurately described sweet corn cheesecake ($6) ameliorated that uncharacteristic, off-key note.

2124 Arlington Ave., Upper Arlington


Lupo on Arlington