By David Minsky
By Nicole Danna
By Sara Ventiera
By Candace West
By Emily Dabau
By Doug Fairall
By Candace West
By Laine Doss
Luna Rosa Deerfield opened last summer with a menu and wine list similar to its sister restaurant, Caffe Luna Rosa, in Delray Beach. The restaurant filched Sous Chef Pasquale Lena from the older location and made him executive chef, and both restaurants are overseen by owner Fran Marincola and General Manager Jorge Ramos. Marincola opened the Delray place years ago as a gelateria (Italian ice cream shop) and gradually expanded into his two full-service restaurants what a success story! You'll probably spot Marincola and/or Ramos at Ristorante Luna Rosa during dinner service: They're the handsome dudes in expensive suits roaming the dining room to keep an eye on service and quality.
Luna Rosa, remodeled from the old Howard Johnson's restaurant and still attached to that hotel, has a pretty view of the beach and the pier from both inside and out, so it's worth going as it stays light longer for dinner or for breakfast or lunch. Things get crazy during season on that section of beach, and the restaurant doesn't take reservations for small parties, so you may have to cool your heels at the Pink Moon bar (although we got a table right away at 8:30 on a Saturday night because we were willing to sit inside). The trick is to valet your car at the entrance to the Howard Johnson's and get your ticket stamped in the restaurant (which brings the valet service down to a reasonable $3). It'll save you spinning around in the vortex of tourists and locals vainly trying to snag a parking spot: Believe it there aren't any.
The menu, as the moniker suggests, is all Italian all the time. Luna Rosa, we found, does some things extremely well and others not at all. Every review of the place during its first year has been glowing, and if I throw a little tepid water on Luna's pink bonfire, it's not because I want to douse the flame entirely. But there's room for improvement, and most of those improvements would be almost criminally easy to make because they require only simple attention to small details.
Let's take, for instance, the salads. We had two: the Luna Rosa salad and the insalata mista (each $6). The Luna Rosa is made with gigantic, uncut leaves of arugula and goat cheese, and the size of those leaves makes it almost impossible to eat gracefully. You have to saw away at them like you're cutting up dinner for a child or, failing that, stuff them into your mouth whole. Either option dims one's enjoyment. And it didn't help that the salad was almost entirely undressed. We found the same problem with our insalata mista simple mixed greens devoid of coating. Anyone who's ever been on a diet knows that a salad without oil is more punishment than pleasure. There's a reason the Italians long ago learned to add a bit of olive oil and lemon juice to their greens it makes them taste great!
I had bad luck too with an expensive red Super Tuscan ordered by the glass. It was clearly spoiled. I'm going to keep barking about wines by the glass until somebody hears the message: Customers are paying top dollar, often the price of an entire bottle, for a glass of wine. Servers really ought to bring the bottle to the table, present it, and pour a taste. I've seen this done only once or twice memorably, at Trina and my gratitude was boundless. Restaurateurs make huge profits on by-the-glass wines, and the least they can do is make sure (1) we're getting the wine we ordered, and (2) it wasn't uncorked three months ago.
But things turned around with a delicious plate of meatballs in pomodoro sauce (polpette di carne, $7). You think it's easy making a meatball? Not so, but apparently one of Luna Rosa's chef's mothers knew how, because this is a family recipe. The Sicilian at our table vouched for their authenticity: two tender, gravy-soaked mouthfuls of mixed beef and veal in a garlic and basil San Marzano tomato sauce. Flawless.