2005-04-13 / Restaurant of the Week

Luna Sur Offers Stellar Cuisine, Service

Luna Sur serves top flight, contemporary Italian cuisine in a soothing, mellow atmosphere inspired by its name. Chef J. Saldana, formerly of Baraonda on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, brought his award-winning expertise to Metropolitan Avenue on the quiet side of Forest Hills last June, when he opened Luna Sur.

The dining room exudes warmth from golden dappled walls and whimsical paper sconces that depict the phases of the moon. Even the brightly colored menu will entice you as Isaac, your waiter, pours you a glass of wine.

There’s nothing ordinary about the food at Luna Sur, where fresh greens and vegetables, pasta, seafood and meats are transformed into heavenly dishes that will delight you. We spread their own sun-dried tomato tapenade on bread and then shared a special house salad of warm, sautéed baby artichokes and crunchy pistachio nuts over tender baby greens topped with shaved Parmigiano cheese. Buttery buffalo mozzarella served with roasted red peppers, tomatoes and fresh basil leaves melts in the mouth ($10.50). The appetizer menu also includes soft, creamy polenta, a northern Italian dish made with four different cheeses. Tuna tartare minced with ginger, capers and lime juice and served with crispy potatoes is one of my favorites. A seafood salad of plump shrimp, tender calamari, baby mussels and tiny clams tossed with red onion, greens and a lemon vinaigrette dressing also frequently appears on the appetizer specials menu.

Luna Sur does an impressive job with homemade pasta. Gnocchi are so light they would float off the plate, if not for the sublime cream sauce and shaved black truffles that cover them. They’re also drizzled with white truffle oil for an extra layer of flavor. Veal ravioli are translucent pillows of veal topped with crispy pancetta (smoked Italian bacon), butter and sage ($13.50). Pappardelle (ribbon pasta) is tossed with juicy shrimp, chunks of eggplant and cherry tomatoes, combining the flavors of earth and sea. A generous mound of angel hair pasta is topped with the freshest of seafood, including shrimp, mussels, clams and calamari, all in a light tomato sauce.

Luna Sur offers fresh, delicious fish, every night of the week. Orata, one of their specialties, is oven roasted whole with black olives, asparagus and cherry tomatoes. Chilean sea bass on a bed of Sardinian pasta is surrounded by tender mussels in a light tomato sauce. This dish was really wonderful, as was the salmon in potato crust on a bed of spinach.

If you crave chicken paillard with green beans, corn and baby spinach, Luna Sur has the dish for you. Grilled baby lamb chops hardly require chewing, as is the case with the filet mignon with black truffles, mushrooms and spinach. Luna Sur also serves a hefty Black Angus sirloin steak, cooked to order. In addition to all these tempting menu items, nightly specials will tantalize your taste buds.

Whatever you choose as a main course, please save room for the chef’s fabulous dessert. A brief wait was rewarded with a warm, individual chocolate soufflé with a melted chocolate center accompanied by a scoop of their homemade ice cream and a sprig of fresh mint, a treat so wonderful I considered walking all the way home. An assortment of homemade ice creams and sorbets are also available daily, as are a warm banana tartlet with chocolate sauce and crème caramel with strawberry compote ($6.50). The coffee and espresso are rich and delicious.

I urge you to visit Luna Sur for lunch or dinner, seven days a week. The food compares to that served in the finest, trendiest restaurants in Manhattan, without the sky-high prices and occasional nose-in-the-air attitudes. Here you can park right outside, be treated to top-flight service and enjoy a fabulous meal in a comfortable, soothing setting. Wine and beer are served and credit cards are now accepted. Reservations are suggested on weekends.

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