The wood-grilled Spanish octopus is among the fresh, farm-to-table dishes comprising Lunetta’s summer menu

By Audrey Cleo Yap

Lunetta Dining and Moon Bar

2420 Pico Blvd.,
Santa Monica, (310) 581-420, lunettasm.com

You might say Lunetta is a study in contrasts. The Pico Boulevard eatery is actually two restaurants sharing one kitchen. Lunetta All-Day, a bright fast-casual spot serving breakfast, lunch and dinner, is celebrating its one-year anniversary. Next door its moodier, sophisticated companion previously called Lunetta At Night has, after eight months, recently re-launched as Lunetta Dining and Moon Bar, open exclusively for dinner service Tuesdays through Saturdays.

If Lunetta All-Day is the yin, then Lunetta Dining and Moon Bar is its yang.

“It’s been interesting to find the dynamic between both restaurants,” says Executive Chef Raphael Lunetta, an icon of the Southern California culinary scene.

Regarded as an early proponent of using local, seasonal ingredients in fine dining, the Los Angeles native and ex-pro surfer first introduced locals to his brand of elevated coastal cuisine with JiRaffe in downtown Santa Monica; it closed in 2014 after an 18-year run. After rebooting Veranda inside the historic Georgian Hotel, he opened Lunetta with partners Mike Garrett and Daniel Weinstock of hospitality company Divide + Conquer, Inc.

At Lunetta Dining and Moon Bar, chef Lunetta and partner / chef de cuisine Emilio Cuyuch bring the farm-to-table ethos to a menu of specials that changes every weekend, utilizing ingredients from the local Santa Monica Farmers Market, a relationship he has cultivated over 28 years.

Among Lunetta’s personal favorites for summer are the in-season tomatoes for dishes like the heirloom burger and the tomatillo sauce for his wood-grilled Spanish octopus with white bean hummus. Summer-ready stone fruit is also a menu staple, with a prosciutto-wrapped grilled nectarine appetizer and nectarine blueberry cobbler for dessert.

And it’s hard to miss what is central to Lunetta Dining and Moon Bar, both on the menu and in-person: a 72-inch wood-burning grill open to the main dining room, from which Indonesian-inspired loup de mer with Bali spice and New Zealand rack of lamb over spinach will go from plate to palate.

“I’m also a big fan of pan-roasting, so we have these big black cast iron skillets. We’re roasting miyataki mushrooms, both in the oven and finishing them on the wood,” Lunetta adds.

Keeping with Lunetta’s California fine-but-not-pretentious-fine dining is a range of quirky house-made cocktails at the Moon Bar, like the Gnarly Surfer (rhum agricole, vegan egg white, pineapple gomme) and the Tired But Wired (tequila, chamomile-turmeric syrup, coconut cream).

And chef Lunetta isn’t done yet — he’s still in what he calls the “laying the foundation” stages of his latest venture, something that will, in total, take another year.

“We still have a lot more area that we can cover. There’s a lot of things we still have in our pockets,” said Lunetta. “It takes about 14 months to get you to your opening date. And another 14 months to figure it all out. My goal is to have all of this running smoothly by July 1, 2019.”

Chef Lunetta also notes the menu trends he’s observed over the years, including a movement away from small plates to larger, shareable ones as well as a retreat from other fine dining staples like charcuterie boards.

“I do believe that the majority of a younger audience, millennials and even the next generation down from them, still want a combination of a good, social dining experience, and they still want integrity-driven ingredients, whether it be from the food to the spirits to the wine,” said Lunetta.

And while the plates leaving his kitchen are, no doubt, Instagram-ready, he knows diners will engage in a more old-fashioned way.

“I think it’s important to have the engagement of people being able to get their hands on the food,” he said, “and play with it.”   

Lunetta Dining and Moon Bar is open from 6:30 to 11 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays and 5 to 11 p.m. Saturdays.

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