Favorite

LUMA 

We had just settled in when a small basket of bread was brought to the table, and a plate with a pile of grated Reggiano parmesan cheese. The server poured a very generous, almost alarming, amount of garlic-infused olive oil over the cheese. Still, by the time the cheese and the bread had soaked up the oil, and the plate was wiped bare with the last bit of crust, I had forgotten just how much olive oil there had been. Dining out can be so pleasantly distracting.

I began with the pear salad appetizer: a cabernet-poached pear on mixed greens with goat cheese and sugar-crusted pecans in an apple-cider vinaigrette. The three pear halves -- each partially sliced -- were slightly crunchy, not too sweet, and had the warm hint of the red wine. Definitely crunchy and sweet were the candied pecans. A good deal of pear, plus the mesculin greens, this salad would have made a nice light lunch -- or could be shared with a smaller appetizer such as the one my companion chose.

My companion had ordered the Japanese-style ahi appetizer. I nearly had stopped him, thinking that's not typical of an American-European menu. But of course, today it is, as tastes and culinary creations cross and fuse like mad, and menus rarely seem restricted by strictly defined cuisines. No one raises a eyebrow now if, like at Luma, rice noodles in a Thai peanut sauce share the page with pasta with marinara sauce and a pita bread pocket stuffed with smoked gouda and pesto hummus.

The tuna was seared, then sliced very thin. It was presented attractively, as the six slices radiated from the plate's center and a pile of shaved ginger; thin drizzles of hot wasabi sauce ran between each slice. There was also a small side serving of soy sauce, With each component arranged separately, the diner could choose his degree of seasoning (a little wasabi for most people is all they need); also, you don't want to overwhelm a nice silky rare cut of tuna.

My companion chose the roasted muscovy duck (muscovy is a particularly lean breed of the bird). It was half a duck with a wonderful golden-brown crackly skin and covered in onion, golden raisin and peach chutney. The duck meat was moist, and the light fruit chutney made a fine complement.

That night, the side dishes with the entrees were steamed broccoli and mashed potatoes. The potatoes had been whipped with pesto and goat cheese, and frankly, they didn't look all that appetizing, laying on the plate like a greenish, slightly lumpy, gelatinous ooze. They tasted great though. Not too much basil and garlic to overwhelm the potatoes, and they were so sinfully rich with cheesy, creamy goodness.

In fact, I preferred the potatoes to the onion sauce as an accompaniment to the lamb I'd ordered. The bourbon, onion and pumpkin demi-glace that covered the slices of meat also looked a bit gloopy. It was a little too sweet and thick for my tastes -- perhaps too much pumpkin? -- and the chef had spooned on too much. I pushed the excess to one side and then simply applied it as needed. The medium-rare grilled lamb -- with a nice smokiness -- had a few chewy spots, but the meat was flavorful and overall, it was an interesting dish.

Among the dessert choices were cinnamon bread pudding, apple pie, and cheesecake with fruit topping. We felt it was our duty to try the two less common sweets: a bananas Foster pie and a chocolate dessert they called a "saucie." This was a small chocolate mousse cake square, topped with pecans and drizzled with chocolate syrup. Around the cake sat two scoops of French vanilla ice cream and two heaps of whipped cream. When the cake was cut into, it oozed yet another variant of chocolate sauce.

Bananas Foster -- named for Richard Foster, formerly of the New Orleans Crime Commission (what a perk of civic duty!) -- is flambéed bananas served over ice cream. This pie, served chilled, was three different layers of whipped banana filling, atop a sweet, sugary crust, and naturally, topped with cream. I'm not sure what relation it bore to bananas Foster, but it was an excellent variation on a banana cream pie.

Luma is an attractive, if typical, space. The walls are ochre (surely this year's color for restaurant interiors) and hung with a few paintings. Subdued light shines down from small red- and yellow-shaded lights strung on wires set at rakish angles across the room. Luma's also has a charming bar with the walls and ceiling painted a soothing midnight blue. And weather permitting, there's a patio for al fresco dining where one could watch life come and go on Brilliant Avenue. * * *

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