Like many other locales across town, Lulu — the chic, forest-green cocktail lounge on SE Grand Avenue — closed in March 2020 during the first wave of dining shutdowns. However, unlike many others, it kept its doors closed save for a brief, week-long window in the summer of 2020. But now, co-owner Vijay Kumar says it’s ready to reopen, and when it does, it will look a little different: along with some cosmetic upgrades including new leather seats and fresh wallpaper, visitors will also find a menu highlighting an under-represented cuisine in the Portland restaurant world — Nikkei cuisine, a style of cooking that combines Peruvian ingredients with Japanese technique. Jarana PDX — helmed by Gary Marmanillo, of Peruvian restaurant Casa Zoraya, and Ryley Eckersley, the chef behind Quaintrelle’s stunning locavore tasting menu — will operate as the kitchen for Lulu, serving dishes like tiradito and ceviche alongside pisco sours.
Marmanillo grew up and studied the culinary arts in Peru, and his teachers included chef Roger Arakaki, a Nikkei chef behind spots like Lima’s Sushi Ito. Since then, Marmanillo cooked in several Portland Peruvian restaurants like Paiche, co-opened Casa Zoraya with his mother, Zoraya Zambrano, and worked at Italian restaurant DOC, where he met Eckersley. The two remained friends since, and occasionally discussed opening a Nikkei restaurant. When Kumar announced he was looking for a chef to run the kitchen at Lulu, Eckersley reached out to him with the idea of bringing on Marmanillo and finally opening their Nikkei restaurant. Kumar agreed, and the team went to work on the menu, calling the concept Jarana PDX.
In Peru, jarana is a kind of gathering, a festive party between neighbors, Marmanillo explains. It’s that kind of convivial vibe that the team is working to create at this new version of Lulu, as well as providing the city a real look at Nikkei cooking. Though the menu will likely source locally and change seasonally, much like Quaintrelle, it will start with a number of standing dishes. Eckersley and Marmanillo are particularly excited about dishes like oysters with passionfruit and shoyu, rockfish ceviche with fried calamari and Peruvian cancha (corn nuts), and tiradito, a classic Nikkei dish that’s essentially a cross between ceviche and sashimi — at Jarana PDX, it’s made with hamachi, leche de tigre, and trout roe. Marmanillo is also excited about the pulpo al olivo, a traditional Peruvian dish featuring octopus in an olive sauce with bacon.
Also on the menu: empanadas, the recipe of which comes from Marmanillo’s mother, who taught both Marmanillo and Eckersley how to make them. One will be meat (opening with a chicken and bay shrimp empanada), the other made with vegetables sourced from Portland farmers markets. Vegans will find dishes like a tiradito made with sous-vide king oyster mushrooms, and there will be plenty of gluten-free options.
While Jarana is one focus for Lulu, the other is on its new drink menu. A few standbys will remain, including the kiwi and mezcal drink Pretty Ugly, whose green hues match the bar space, and the New Fashioned, a take on the Old Fashioned that Kumar says was a popular item. Joining the menu will be some pisco, including a pisco sour, to pair with the food, and Kumar says that he’ll be playing with some Japanese ingredients for cocktails. The team is also collaborating on a wine menu meant to pair with the dishes — think funky, natural wines, according to Eckersley. There will be two taps for white and rosé, along with wine pours for white, red, and bubbly. A “small but mighty” array of bottles will also be available, many local and focused on wines that would also fit with Quaintrelle’s bottle list.
Lulu is expected to re-open by the weekend of the 23rd, though Kumar says he’d rather delay re-opening and get everything right than rush it. When it does open, it will operate from 4 p.m. to midnight on Wednesdays and 4 p.m. to 1 a.m. Thursday through Saturday. Jarana will be operating whenever the bar is, so that diners can find a plate of ceviche, some oysters, and an empanada late into the evening.