Restaurant Pick: Lunacy Black Market

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Over the past twenty or so years, Chef Paul Luna has made an impact on the Atlanta restaurant scene.  Building a reputation as a true devotee of the culinary arts...  even going so far as forbidding salt & pepper shakers on his tables - the food he serves is seasoned correctly & perfectly.  After an absence from the south, Chef Luna is back with a wonderful, charming cafe in Downtown Atlanta.  Our visit on Saturday will remain as one of our top restaurant experiences (right up there with a visit to Per Se in NYC!).  Finally, a chef that is doing it for the love of the food...  not for the fortune and fame.

I had no idea what to expect once I made our reservations with Cynthia, Chef Luna's partner in life & business.  I had no idea what type of food he was serving at the restaurant or the cost.  All I was prepared for was that the restaurant is BYOB...  the liquor license is still in the process.  Seeing Chef Luna again as we entered the restaurant was wonderful...  his warmth and positivity are so infectious!  It has been about 10 years since our last meeting.  I was working at a small cafe in the Buckhead neighborhood - Souper Jenny - and while Jenny was on a trip to Itlay, he came and cooked with us in the kitchen.  His 2 week stay was a highlight & the food, delicious.

The interior of the restaurant has a soft glow from hanging paper lanterns...  casual seating with couches & cafe style tables & chairs.  Original and local art work line the walls.  The kitchen can be scene at the far end of the room.  Chef Luna encourages patrons to walk the space, look at the art, talk with other diners, and watch him as he prepares our meals.  As for staff, it's Chef Luna, Cynthia, and 1 additional server - that's it. Chef Luna and Cynthina only accept about 25 or so customers a night.  The greatest part of our arrival was being told that we had our table for the night.  No other diners are accepted once the space limit is full.  Talk about a concept which is almost unheard of in the city of Atlanta! We were not shown menus, which surprisingly lifts the pressure on food decision making.  Small plates of items arrived at our table one by one...  each the right portion to be enjoyed leisurely.  Examples - herbed goat cheese with fried green tomatoes & roasted red peppers; small individual braised short ribs; shredded cabbage salad with fresh mint; roasted mushrooms with tomato tapanade; whole mullet fish perfectly stuffed & roasted with fresh thyme.  About 8 dishes came to us.... and all left empty!  As our evening of good conversation & delectable dishes came to a close we still had no idea what to expect for a bill.  Upon delivery, none of us could believe that our total amount for our table of four was less than $50.

Lunacy Black Market's combination of service, quality of in-season food selections, respect for the patron, and affordable price point is so refreshing in an age when most restaurants are run by a corporation and/or the chef is vying for spot on TV.  Listening to Chef Luna speak about his love for simple, uninspired cooking and eating in this slow, leisurely way, is not only a concept he incorporates in his professional life but in his personal life too.  Opened for lunch & dinner - reservations are suggested for dinner -
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