Dining Review: Pazza Luna

The restaurant’s new chef/owner brings his Milanese roots to the table.

When Pazza Luna opened in the late ’90s, the charming row-house restaurant, championed by founder Kim Acton, was a pioneer in the emerging Locust Point renaissance. Its desolate location on a tiny, nowhere street seemed far afield to diners accustomed to more accessible city neighborhoods.

Today, visitors might still get lost—some of us did—but the area is much more familiar with nearby restaurants like The Wine Market, Baba’s Mediterranean Kitchen, and Miguel’s Cocina y Cantina. Pazza Luna, like an intrepid scout, paved the way.

The Italian trattoria has changed hands since Acton left a few years ago, but under the newest owners, chef Davide Rossi and wife Christa Bruno-Rossi, it appears to be a hit with residents and other patrons—at least, from the convivial crowd we witnessed on a recent weeknight. We can see why. The camaraderie, house-made pastas, and delectable sauces from the seasonal menu create fun and excitement.

A bold full moon on our visit seemed appropriate since the restaurant’s name means “crazy moon.” Not that our experience was wacky, but we felt the celestial connection promised good things to come. And it did, for the most part.

 

While we waited for our directionally challenged friends to arrive, we sought our server’s advice on wine. The restaurant’s selections focus on Italian wines by the glass or bottle, including several owners’ choices for $26 a bottle. Our waiter recommended a glass of the Montepulciano D’Abruzzo ($6.50), which proved to be a good sipping red.

Once our table of diners got settled, we were able to enjoy niceties like a chilled carafe of water scented with fresh lemon slices and sprigs of mint; complimentary bruschetta with summer-ripe, chopped tomatoes on crostini with a whiff of garlic; and a delightful bread sack—a brown lunch bag turned down like a sweater cuff and filled with aromatic squares of rosemary focaccia and crisp breadsticks as thin as knitting needles. Our server did the obligatory pour of olive oil on our plates, but this rich dipping ointment burst with tangy crushed olives.

Then, the “intermezzo” palate-cleansing course arrived—before our appetizers even hit the table. We stared blankly at the woman (who wasn’t our server) as she set down the chilled concoction before speaking up and saying it wasn’t time yet. To her credit, she didn’t miss a beat, just swooped up the glasses and said she’d put them in the freezer. Okay, we guessed that would work.

We’re not sure whether the icy-cold lemon sorbet with vodka ($4) made it to the fridge or whether the kitchen made fresh ones, but we encourage you to indulge in the refreshing slushy-like mix, packed in elegant champagne flutes with a stubby straw. It was a fine interlude between our starters and entrees.

Appetizers show the care of the kitchen. Our salad was a composed plate of chilled chopped green asparagus, avocado cubes, and grape tomatoes gleaming with a delicate lemon-and-basil-oil vinaigrette. The flavors soared. The carpaccio was also a work of art with thin sheets of raw beef tenderloin tucked under a billowing cascade of greens studded with fresh corn, capers, sprouts, and scallions. A drizzle of lemon truffle oil and pouf of Parmesan finished off the plate.

 

The antipasto also was on point. Laid out on a colorful painted plate, the meats—braciole (rolled around decadent, creamy Taleggio cheese), prosciutto, speck, and sopressata—were wonderfully spiced and salty.

Pazza Luna’s trademark is the harlequin, a comic character who wears a diamond-patterned leotard of many colors. In the downstairs dining room, the geometric design is captured in a pleasing blue-and-mauve color scheme below a chair rail with the top portion painted a solid mustard shade. It works.

The white tablecloths and votive candles add an understated formality to the tables surrounding the bar. There’s an upstairs dining area, too.

As our meal progressed, the length of time between visits from our server became increasingly noticeable. We realize the harried guy was juggling tables inside and outside, but we did feel neglected.

Finally, our entrees arrived—and our single biggest food disappointment of the evening. Could a veal cutlet be pan fried into a flat rawhide mass? Um, yes. Even the perky wild greens salad covering the meat couldn’t disguise the disaster. The dish was such as aberration to the rest of our meal.

For instance, the tagliatelle Bolognese spoke of a nurturing cook who hand-made the flat, silky strands of pasta in preparation for the long simmering tomato-and-beef ragout that would later embrace the noodles. And the chef’s specialty risotto was creamy with each rice kernel plumped to perfection. On this evening, the kitchen adorned the rice with a tender lazy man’s lobster (taken out of the shell) that was basking in a splash of seafood bisque.

 

Desserts are uncomplicated and suit a filling meal. The panna cotta was a shimmery cool white custard with in-season berries. The cannoli shells came from Vaccaro’s in Little Italy, our waiter said, with the sweetened ricotta filling made at the restaurant. But our favorite was the chocolate crème brûlée that had us scraping the dish.

There’s a lot of talent—and love—at Pazza Luna. Davide Rossi, a native of Milan, Italy, is a former pasta chef at Sotto Sopra, where he met his wife Christa, a Baltimorean who worked in the front of the house.

The couple relocated to Milan for several years and returned to Maine, where they opened a seasonal restaurant, Ports of Italy, in Boothbay Harbor. They’ve since sold that place and have been running Pazza Luna since February.

We definitely recommend a trip to this outpost in Locust Point. Hopefully, the veal will get better treatment on our next visit.

Issue date: November, 2010
12 issues for $18!