Last week was, actually, our second visit to Luna Rossa.
Normally, I try not to dine at a restaurant until it's time for a review, so that every experience is as equal as possible. But we had been to Luna Rossa before, after a jazz concert at Lake Las Vegas. We sat outdoors. In August. It wasn't a pleasant experience, but that had little or nothing to do with Luna Rossa per se.
Cut to last week, a chilly evening when we'd actually planned to review another restaurant, only to be told that it was closed for a private party, so when we walked into Luna Rossa we were literally coming in from the cold. And there, my friends, amid an atmosphere that was warm on many levels, was a pianist playing lovely dinner music, despite the fact that there were but a handful of tables occupied.
So yes, we were charmed right from the beginning. But unlike the hilly streets of The Village at Lake Las Vegas, nothing went downhill from there.
There was a personable, pleasant and efficient wait team. Comfortable but somewhat elegant table settings. A menu that was heavy on the familiar but had enough innovations to keep things interesting. And food that more than met the bar set by all of the above.
We started simply enough, with crusty bread and butter while we waited for our appetizers. Crostini della Tradizione ($13) was anything but traditional, at least by the standards set by most Italian restaurants in this country. Crisp-crusted, lightly toasted, substantial country-style bread had been layered with sage and prosciutto and blanketed by melted mozzarella for a carnival of contrasting textures and flavors -- the crisp bread with the chewy cheese, which also contributed a mellow richness against the earthiness of the sage and the salty lushness of the prosciutto. A pile of mixed field greens, dressed in a light vinaigrette, added balance and interest.
Rigatoni al funghi ($18) sounded truly traditional but turned out to hold a few secrets. The big tubular pasta were cooked just to the al-dente stage, tossed with lots of chunky mushrooms with a firm foresty texture and cossetted in a vodka-infused pink sauce. I tend to like pink sauces because they're less acidic than a standard tomato sauce, and this was one of the good ones.
And Luna Rossa's chef proved that he or she has a way with sauces in the Canelloni di Carni ($24.95). This is a classic dish, and it's customary for the filling of the crepelike pasta cylinders (housemade, in this case) to be made of mixed meats, but we thought the pork-beef-chicken mixture here was just a tad dry. They were saved, though, by the rich bechamel that was ladled across half of them, even more so by the marinara ladled across the other half.
Dessert? We couldn't even look at the menu, much as we were tempted.
Next time. But one thing is certain: It won't be outdoors in August.
Las Vegas Review-Journal restaurant reviews are done anonymously at Review-Journal expense. Contact Heidi Knapp Rinella at 383-0474 or email her at hrinella@ reviewjournal.com.