Lunetta

You can easily miss Lunetta, as we did, walking right by it at first. The Italian restaurant, an offshoot of the Brooklyn location, here in the Flatiron district, does not brandish large signage, but instead has its name and phases of the moon design painted across the top of each of its large pane-glass windows. The space looks and feels more like a French bistro, set somewhat like a theater, where on entry one walks through velvet curtains. The space is shaped like an "L" with booths of tufted brown leather lining the inner walls and outer walls beneath the windows. Simple dark brown, slightly chipped bistro chairs and tables dot the restaurant elsewhere. All the tables are topped with white marble, and the floors are blank-and-white checkered linoleum. All this gives the restaurant a throwback look.

For an early dinner the space was almost empty except for the wait and bar staff. I had originally made reservations for 5:30 p.m., but the host let us in a half hour early. We were seated at a booth set for four. It felt a bit awkward having so much space for only the two of us. The booth was not far from the bar, where a few friends of the staff were hanging out. And placed toward a corner against the mirrored wall, it offered a good vantage view of the entire restaurant and the street outside. The windows are lined with bistro curtains, which the staff keeps drawn, creating an aura of mystery for the outside passersby who constantly peak inside.

We were handed simple paper menus and offered the usual selection of waters. We soon noticed that the table was dirty, with an especially sticky spot right between us. We pointed it out to the waiter, and he cordially cleaned it up. After the bread and, in this case, a very good flowery olive oil, we were ready to order.

With many excellent antipasti to choose from, we decided upon the fried artichokes, a most unusual dish. I thought we would get a whole or half battered-and-fried artichoke. But instead it was fried artichoke leaves and sliced hearts, in chip form, fried along with a branch of rosemary and served with a slice of lemon. These artichoke chips, like potato chips but vastly better, were crunchy, salty, and permeated with rosemary. For $12 they better have been good and they were worth it. Just as a certain chain steakhouse seems to have cornered the market with the must-have fried blooming onion, so has Lunetta, I believe, with its fried artichokes. Or, I have yet to see it offered elsewhere.

Anther thing to note: I had also noticed that there were some artichoke chips on the floor between the booth and table. I guess I can consider this a sign that the appetizer is a popular item; that whoever was here before us ordered it and made a mess. I didn’t mention it to the waiter, but I simply can’t forget the lack of cleanliness of the restaurant. Looking beyond these negatives, you do notice that the restaurant’s menu has a wide selection of unique Italian offerings.

Going outside of the confines of the menu courses of primi and secondi, I chose two primi, one to share as a sort-of-second appetizer and one for myself. So, for the second appetizer, I chose the risi e bisi, a risotto with fresh peas, pancetta, and, of course, finely grated parmesan cheese. The rise e bisi, served in a bowl for easy consumption, was very interesting: the rice was a bit too al dente and the addition of the pancetta, unfortunately, made the entire dish too salty. But it was a good attempt. For our main course, we ordered the tagliatelle with braised pork and short rib ragu (from the primi) and the special of the day, sautéed monkfish with acqua pazza, which translates to “crazy water.” The tagliatelle was also slightly too salty, but had wonderful ribbons of fresh pasta covered in a subtle creamy sauce. The pork seemed a bit too dry and sometimes tasted slightly of liver, which I had to wash down with my glass of red wine. The wine, which I later looked up on the restaurant's Web site, was the Luciano Landi, Lacrima di Morro d’Alba. The wine was great, very fruity and slightly sweet; I highly recommend it. The monkfish special was very unique, first, in that, it was served in a bowl like the risotto before, served with simple vegetables like green beans, potatoes, and green peppers; all poured over with the crazy broth. The crazy water had the subtle sweet taste of a good seafood stock, and the fish was tender and meaty, sautéed in a very light batter.

Onto what I believe is the part of the meal that should never be left out, the dessert. It was very difficult to choose, with such offerings as panna cotta, ricotta cheesecake, chocolate torta, tiramisu, tartufo, crostata, and sorbet and gelato. I couldn’t choose, so I asked the waiter for his recommendation; it was the ricotta lemon cheesecake, drizzled with honey, and sprinkled with pinenut brittle. The cake was a large square, a pretty hefty size from what I was expecting. So far all the dishes were small manageable sizes made for multi-course dinners. The cheesecake was surely designed to please: it was thick, creamy, rich, and dense with that hint of lemon, all nicely complimented by the sweetness of the honey drizzle and crunch of the brittle.

If you look beyond the cleanliness issue, Lunetta offers a good time with good service. To give a fair review I would have to try the Brooklyn location, which I eventually hope to, but until then Lunetta in Manhattan needs a bit of work.

Lunetta
920 Broadway at 21st Ave
New York, NY 10010
212-533-3663
Open daily from 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Antipasti range in price from $6 to $15, primi from $14 to $18, and secondi from $15 to $26.