Love Italian food but not wild about generic red sauce and boring pastas? For an experience that may have you humming "That's Amore," enjoy a delicious meal at Luna Rossa, a little--somewhat overlooked--gem on the Upper East Side. The courteous, very professional staff is largely Italian as is the chef who takes pride in sending out unusual pasta shapes and not-so-standard sauces and fillings.
Many of Italy's regions, including Apulia, Emilia Romagna, Lazio, Sicily and Alto Adige, are represented on the menu that boasts daily specials as well as regular offerings. A half-portion of the Chef's Salad, (my companion and I split a full order which clearly was gigantic), produced a heaping mound of chopped greens tossed with avocado, fresh hearts of palm, roasted peppers and celery, bathed in a lemony dressing. Vitello Tonato, that winning duet of veal in a tuna sauce, makes another great starter as do the fried artichokes; baked eggplant with ricotta and slightly spicy calamari.
Chef Paul Floess, an alumni of Tony May's San Domenico and Bella Blue, serves up an array of enticing entrees like saltimbocca; salmon in a sesame crust accompanied by a sauce of apples, sour cream and horseradish, other fish dishes including striped bass as well as steak, Cornish hen and chicken preparations that win raves. Everything is well prepared but, make no mistake, it's the pastas, many homemade, that you want to focus on. I devoured the paccheri, medium-sized filled tubes that vaguely resemble squashed cannelloni, stuffed with sweet sausage and mushrooms in a tomato-y sauce, while my dining partner raved about the paparedelle with duck as a main feature of the ragu that topped the pasta. Other offerings include homemade black tagliolini with crabmeat and mezzaluna, half- moon shaped ravioli with a ricotta and spinach stuffing, both more unusual than pastas on the menus at many Italian eateries.
Food here is reasonably priced especially given the quality. The large wine list has selections by the glass and bottle and is sourced from all over the Italian boot. If you have room, by all means order dessert which is prepared and served with the same care as the rest of the meal, choosing among faves like tiramisu and flourless hazelnut chocolate cake.
Luna Rossa, which serves only diner, is open from 5 to 10 PM on weekdays and until 11 PM on weekends. On Sundays, brunch is available from noon to 3 PM with choices including scrambled egg whites with corned beef hash and hazelnut crusted French toast with bananas. The warm, rosy, art-filled room is long and narrow but somehow the noise level is generally not so deafening high that it impedes conversation. Much as I like this spot, I hope the world doesn't descend on it because it's so full of charm and deliciousness, it would be a shame to spoil the experience. Delivery and take out are available but I would much rather enjoy a meal in-house at this undiscovered jewel.