Thursday, July 17, 2008

We'll Be Back...

Let's call this a dry run. After giving a coveted three-spork review to Bar Stuzzichini with one hand, and slapping it around with the other, Spoon and I were excited for dinner with friends Cara and Bryan, at newcomer Lunetta, just half a block away from Bar Stuzzichini. We had a lovely evening. We especially enjoyed the company, and there were some culinary highlights. Still, this new Flatiron neighbor kind of fell flat. But, hey, how fair is it to rate a restaurant after just one meal, and after just a few months in business? So no sporks, this time Lunetta, but next time you see us coming, you better...

Lunetta is situated in the space occupied by the old Mayrose Diner, and it comes to us already having achieved a following in Brooklyn, one of the more respected establishments on Smith Street. Note to Chef Adam Shepard: this ain't Brooklyn. You have Bar Stuzzichini within sight, Georgio's and Pizza Fresca around the corner, Beppe and Novita a block away, and the class of the group, A Voce, just six short blocks away. You have time to work out the kinks, chef, but not much.

Let's start with the highlights: the bruschette were tops. We went with the ricotta, hazelnut and lemon zest, and it was sensational. We also had a nice bottle of wine, a sangiovese, from their very reasonably-priced list, and we were ably helped in our selection by the sommelier.

It was hit or miss after that. We went with a tentacled theme to start. The fried calamari, was, well, fried calamari. It's good at Hooters, too, so, you know, whatever. The octopus came served with a Mediterranean flair, on a bed of cucumber, and, frankly, it was abysmal. Cold, rubbery, discolored, and a bit fishy, about as far from the always perfectly cooked octopus served steps away at Bar Stuzzichini.

The main courses were delicious, if inconsistent. My tagliatelle with pork and short rib ragu was fantastic. Perfectly cooked, and seasoned, generously portioned, and with great texture. Meanwhile, with half a dish of my pasta to go, I noticed Spoon's linguine with clams was wiped out. For the record, I rarely see Spoon clean a plate, and never before I do. There couldn't have been more than a fistful of pasta in the bowl. She said it also lacked linguine with clams's signature garlicky punch. Bryan had the meatballs (pictured), also delicious, but served alone in a white bowl, and not quite a filling meal. Cara, meanwhile, enjoyed a nice, simple pomodoro. For dessert, a hazelnut gelato was decadent, while an olive oil gelato was passable, though unremarkable, rather like eating vanilla gelato with an oil-soaked spoon.

The service, while enthusiastic, was also spotty. It was somewhat jarring that our perfectly nice, cheery and tall (at least 6'4") server seemed to have his own hobbit, training a 4'11" comrade who did not speak. When I asked the waiter if the antipasti were individually portioned or suitable for sharing, he replied, "Yes!" enthusiastically. Um, oooookay.... When Bryan ordered the meatballs, he failed to explain that they were served alone. He asked if Bryan wanted a side order of pasta, but he really should have recommended it.

Spoon and I were split over the room itself. Spoon liked the decor, and I agree, it is pretty: high ceilings, all windows on the outer walls with nice drapes, and mirrors on the inner walls. The tables are marble, and we were seated in a comfortable banquette. To me, however, it lacked the gravitas of Bar Stuzzichini's heavy, deep wood and hanging lamps. The decor seemed like it could be disassembled in a day's time. Which it very well might be if Lunetta doesn't do something soon to distinguish itself in a neighborhood already packed with good Italian.

Adam Shepard is clearly a very talented chef. He also is apparently up for a challenge, moving into a neighborhood with so much competition. We're hoping he's up to that challenge. Time, and a few more meals, will surely tell.--F

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