Review: Luna de Noche
Luna de Noche's Gourmet Tex-Mex in Victory Park is the sixth location for the chain helmed by Lisa Galvan-Cuevas. She started the first of the restaurants in 1998, and with this one has expanded the menu to include four "nuevo gourmet" dishes and additional items in various sections on the menu. One would assume the idea was to make the Victory Park location "the place to be," but each of my visits had me sitting in a nearly empty dining room, so the idea doesn't seem to have caught on.
The problem may be inconsistency. The items on the Gourmet Tex-Mex menu don't jibe well together. Some are chi-chi, some home-style, some Tex-Mex, some straight out of the 1950s and 1960s. The only guarantees are an enormous serving and a price tag that could benefit from a decrease.
Finish a meal at Luna de Noche and you'll probably put on some weight. Americans traditionally go overboard when it comes to portion sizes—often serving twice, if not more, than the recommended size of an item, but enough with going for decadence and a doggie bag: Cut the portions in half and give customers a tasty meal they can afford, because they can't afford to live in Victory Park.
On my first visit, I chose weekday lunchtime to tuck into Rudy's Request, a platter of three roasted pork/corn tortilla tacos with an expanse of rice and beans. While the pork was succulent and tender, the grease overwhelmed the corn tortilla. The garnish tray of house salsa, chopped onions and cilantro proved to be enhancing additions, cutting the grease and adding a clean, fresh bite to the meat. Give me two instead of three, charge me 10 bucks instead of 15 and I might try them again.
My dining companion opted for the chile relleno del mar and got a bit more food for the 26 smackers. The ample poblano pepper was chock full of crab, shrimp, mushrooms and peppers, with several of the crustaceans sitting in the sauce on top. The cream sauce made the light egg white batter soggy, and overall the entrée was more mush than crisp, but my companion lauded the flavor and ample seafood. The dinner salad that comes with the meal is unnecessary and large enough to be an entrée if it had a few additional items.
The second time I ventured to Luna de Noche's Gourmet Tex-Mex, my mate and I dove headfirst into flambé. Now, the queso flameado is available at other Luna de Noche locations, but part of having a successful new addition to a chain is replicating favorite recipes of the existing restaurants. Our waiter proceeded to drizzle and massage a little Bacardi 151 onto the top layer of Monterrey jack cheese (odd, since liqueurs, rums and cognac need only a proof of 80 to flambé dishes properly; 151 is more commonly found with flaming beverages). Once ignited, the alcohol burned away and our server tossed and mashed the cheese with chorizo, onions and mushrooms. He then placed a glob of the cheesy mixture onto flour tortillas, folded them over and plated them.
The queso creation was ooey-gooey and a touch greasy, thanks to the chorizo. The tortillas are just a skosh too bready and I found it better to tear away about half of the starchy flat to enjoy the flavor of the mash. Coupling it with crispy tortilla chips also made for a delicious bite. The dish made four tacos, which, for four diners would have been perfect, but for two of us was way too much of an appetizer.
Next came entrees that would have been more appropriate if made for someone named Gigantor. The portabello/beef tenderloin was about the size of my face. A very lightly battered portabello cap formed the base and held a layer of grilled onions, then a layer of grilled (and exquisitely tender) beef tenderloin slices, then another of onions. A poblano cream sauce was drizzled over the top and bled nicely over into the side of cilantro-infused rice. The side of grilled veggies was oily and needless, except to break up the richness of the main attraction. I was able to polish off about one-sixth of it before plunking down my $33. Cut it down by a third, lop off $20 and this lovely dish might go from intimidating to doable.
I tried another gourmet dish on a different visit—the jalapeño meatloaf.
While the addition of mild jalapeños made for a welcome variation on a normally bland Betty Crocker classic, I surely didn't need two hunky slices of it when half of one would have sufficed. I also didn't need a cereal bowl of conchitas (a zesty salsa-fied version of shells 'n' cheese) or a cup of skillet corn. I would have loved to have some grilled veg replacing either the shells or the corn. It still would've been home-style and less likely to produce caloric guilt.
La Jill (Cuñada) was where shit got weird and a little too phallic. The butterflied chicken breast was all well and good, but the whole zucchini threw off both my dinner friend and me. The menu states that one will receive "a baked zucchini, stuffed with cheese and pecans, covered with our tomato garlic, onion sauce." Sure, we expected baked, stuffed zucchini, but—and it's probably our own faults—we didn't expect one large, whole zucchini that had a little cheese and a whole lot of pecans in a little slit down the middle. And "baked" is subjective. The squash was almost raw.
So, you got rice, chicken and an entire zucchini on a plate with some spicy but out-of-place tomato sauce. It's an odd dish, and here's a tip: While the chicken was tasty, the look of La Jill might be too daunting, nay, emasculating, an option on a first date.
Luna's Tex-Mex Gourmet won us back with brunch and desserts. The Luna Layer Verde was an amazing change-up on huevos rancheros, layering a corn tortilla with beans, ham, salsa verde, eggs and cheese. We also tried La Mexicana and omelet de la casa between three of us, but that layered gem took the blue ribbon. And surprisingly, brunch showed us smaller portions, some wonderful sautéed peppers and potatoes and a helluva guilty pleasure in the refried beans.
In the way of desserts, we went mid-century and had our server flambé yet again. The Flaming Alisandra delivered two sopapillas with a flaming apple (other choices are strawberry and peach) compote and what appeared to be Reddi-wip wrapped in a black cloth napkin (That's our only complaint in the dessert arena. A restaurant worth its place settings needs to make their own whipped cream.)
The flan was also a win. The various strata were visible: the browned, firm top, the smooth custard just below still buzzing with caramel flavor, and, lower still, the more porous and gelatinous jiggle that cools the tongue. This is the one dish worth the two pounds it puts on your hips.
I want to love the new Luna location. I'll be back for basics, like two-enchilada platters and brunch, sure. I just cannot get past the overwhelming size of the dishes. It tended to be off-putting instead of enticing, and I couldn't help but think that smaller portions and prices would have diners lining up outside past the dog-friendly patio. As it is, meals come across as excessive instead of "gourmet." Where they do succeed is in perfectly cooked proteins, enthusiasm and service. My servers seemed to genuinely care that I was having a good meal, and when it comes to customer care there's no such thing as "too much."
2300 Victory Park Lane, 214-420-3050. 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. $$$
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