You don't expect to find fine dining in a shopping center, but Café Luna does its best to make the Garden City Center live up to its name as you approach, with flowers and window boxes and hanging planters taking the edge off the urban location. Judging from our recent visit, we couldn't have expected a much better eating experience if the Via Veneto or the Seine had been outside instead of Cranston.
Café Luna is an unpretentious little oasis, with bare tables but cloth napkins, a beverage cooler and cold case as prominent as at a deli, but dishes that make you straighten up and take notice. If the weather's good, you can sit outside at one of the umbrella-shaded tables. We chose inside, for the AC.
The place changed ownership 1-1/2 years ago and is now completing its second decade. Chef Jason Timothy, who has gathered experience on Federal Hill restaurants and elsewhere, has taken over from chef Jose Nunez, and longtime fans of the place have not been disappointed. The friend we had dinner with, who has eaten frequently at Café Luna, said that it was the best meal she'd ever had here.
Café Luna | 401.944.1438 | 22 Midway Rd, Cranston | Mon-Sat, 11 am-9 pm | Major Credit Cards | Beer + Wine | Sidewalk-Level Access
Although a basket of nondescript white bread was set on the table at first, it was eventually supplemented by a decent focaccia — request it and some olive oil when you sit down. Our appetizers made up for that first impression. The temptations included clams zuppa ($11) and an interesting mini-entrée: seared sesame-seed encrusted ahi tuna ($10) atop sweet and sour red cabbage. We chose the vegetable dumplings ($8), Johnnie because of the veggies and I because of the described spicy peanut sauce. The presentation was appealing, the plump darlings lined up on a long rectangular serving platter. The cabbage-centric filling was moist, and the steamed dumplings held up under the tantalizingly hot peanut sauce by being lightly pan-fried, which added texture.
The restaurant's grilled pizzas ($10 to $11) have a good reputation, and it was easy to see — and taste — why. The flavorful, chewy dough sets it apart. There are only four versions: tomato sauce and mozzarella, broccoli rabe and sausage, four-cheese, and veggie. We had that last one, and even I, an inveterate carnivore, didn't miss the meat. Atop fresh spinach leaves were roasted red peppers, red onion, and fresh crimini mushrooms, piled high and all given a quiet boost by dollops of creamy mascarpone cheese.
Speaking of starters, we happened to show up on a Tuesday, when all bottles and half-bottles of wine are half-price. So my half-bottle of Frog's Leap Sauvignon Blanc was $9, only two bucks more than a glass of house wine would have been. I recommend the timing.
Roseann, our dining companion, chose a special, seared scallops ($24). The four fat sea scallops were under a bacon-butter sauce, which isn't as greasy as it sounds, and atop a corn niblet, shiitake, and potato hash. It was delicious, as was Johnnie's generous portion of chicken française, next to broccoli and well-roasted potatoes. The sauce looked dark, almost like a marsala, but it was decidedly lemony.