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Surf's Uptown 

It might be a little more kid-friendly than its Warehouse District predecessor, but the new LUCY'S RETIRED SURFER'S RESTAURANT & BAR still makes the hours happy.

New Orleans' original Lucy's Retired Surfer's Restaurant & Bar, a Warehouse District retreat for Cal-Mex food, beachfront furnishings and blended drinks, is most notorious for early-evening happy hours that spill out into the street and all too easily stretch into the happier hours of late night. The new Lucy's, which opened in Uptown in June, is a close approximation of the original in its surfer theme, its cocktail card and its kick-back attitude.

Well into its fifth month, however, its role in residential Uptown is somewhat more parental, though not necessarily more subdued. At 2 p.m. one afternoon, kids composed the customer majority, many wiggling around to Tone-Loc's "Wild Thing." The following evening, their parents in tow, another young brood waged a coloring marathon; a gallery of crayon masterpieces hangs on a wall of corrugated tin near the entrance. This kid factor is most remarkable because it has little effect on the restaurant's overall vibe. Just like at the beach, cocktail hour and recess are practically indistinguishable at Lucy's.

If happy hours tend to lag at the new outpost, the high-octane cocktails don't. Bloody Marys are properly spiked and spiced, and garnished with pickled green beans. When I waffled between the Bikini Bellini and the Pink Pussycat, a waitress settled the score by insisting I try the Purple Rain -- a half-and-half get-up of sangria and blended margarita that tastes like cranberry juice but feels an awful lot like tequila. An unfortunate margarita on the rocks turned out, like a prom dress, abrasive in all the wrong places. Still, as a friend pointed out, the orange plastic mermaid swimming on top "makes up for a lot." She slipped the mermaid into her pocketbook and continued to drink. A fun, bare-midriff crowd often gathers around Lucy's glossy wooden bar after sunset.

The same crowd seems to have spawned much of the service staff, a collection of young women with sunny demeanors, names like Orchid and a knack for disappearing at precisely the only time they're needed. This happened often enough to create suspicion. And yet, from the droll menu descriptions to the grass-skirted restroom sink to the "surf tools" (aka silverware) tucked into paper bags printed with surf prayers, it's almost embarrassing to take anything here too seriously.

Including the food. If you fail to fall in love with any one dish, it's probably still in your best interest to find one that's worth ordering again -- because odds are most diners will be back. Consider generous opening hours, that kid quotient, the beer selection, the large-group friendliness, the location, the parking lot, the sunny day surfing murals. For many neighborhood customers the entire package will prove too agreeable to disregard simply because the smoked chicken enchiladas tasted soapy or because the kitchen sometimes ignores the menu and makes portobello mushroom fajitas with button mushrooms instead (I experienced both indiscretions).

For starters, then, take brunch. The Tom Blake Breakfast Burrito (named for the inventor of the surfboard fin) is watertight: a warm flour tortilla rolled around downy scrambled eggs, sliced red potato, spiced breakfast sausage and cheese. Free baskets of hot, fried tortilla strips coated in cinnamon sugar precede all brunches; coffee, though just standard brew, comes in the sort of deep, narrow-bodied, thin-lipped mugs I personally adore.

One lunchtime a salad of blue cheese, bacon and pale green lettuce chopped to confetti was so satisfying in texture and crispness that I only noticed after the fact that three main ingredients -- radicchio, heart of palm and cucumber -- had been missing. The Juicy Lucy burger is a solid, 8-oz. patty that lives up to its name. Diners for whom a burger is an excuse to abuse condiments will go mad from all the choices: blue cheese, chile con queso, guacamole, grilled onions, sprouts, green chile sauce, and so on.

Todos Santos fish tacos have no competition, as far as I tasted, anytime. When made with soft tortillas (versus hard ones) and grilled (versus fried) white fish, the clean, moist fish harmonizes in freshness with garnishes of sweet tomato and crunchy red cabbage. Tartar sauce served on the side should be added in moderation. A six-layer chocolate cake made off the premises with fudgy frosting is an appropriately outrageous way to continue not taking yourself -- or any additional thoughts of moderation -- too seriously.

This is not authentic Mexican food but rather southern California Mexican surfer food, a genre that's often overrun by egregious amounts of bland melted cheese. Anyone excited by this prospect should consider the Serious Nachos, the Whitey Harrison huevos rancheros and the cheese enchiladas, all of which have potential but too much cheese to taste it. Po-boys and various salads are available for diners who wish to steer clear of the genre altogether.

All things considered, though, the basics of Cal-Mex cooking -- rich and salty refried beans, savory black beans, chunky salsa and lime-touched guacamole -- are well represented at Lucy's. These create a solid foundation for most entrees that, given the right attitude (or cocktail), can turn out as enjoyable as happy hour.

click to enlarge The second incarnation of LUCY'S RETIRED SURFER'S - RESTAURANT & BAR has caught a wave with the - Uptown crowd. - CHERYL GERBER
  • Cheryl Gerber
  • The second incarnation of LUCY'S RETIRED SURFER'S RESTAURANT & BAR has caught a wave with the Uptown crowd.


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