I'll never forget when a fun, pretty girl from out of town joined my high school halfway through junior year. It caused quite a stir with the popular crowd, and the trendiest girls were all in a tizzy, threatened by their sudden change in status. They eventually began to imitate her language and style. The same may happen with newcomer Luma on Park. I imagine other restaurants of her caliber ducking for cover, reorganizing, emulating.
Terrazzo spreads over a cozy bar and a vivacious dining room, partitioned by a glass-encased stairwell that leads to an impressive wine cellar. Beyond a backdrop of stylish wood, leather, metal and marble sits an open kitchen. Luma is scattered with nooks that allow patrons to be comfortably alone, while still part of the lively room. Polka-dotted rugs and circles of chairs in the bar create miniature, but exceedingly stylish, private spaces. Likewise with long pub tables, spacious booths and rooms created for bigger parties.
My meals have been flawless. The ambience gorgeous. But I want to address two issues: One, their hosting system needs help. I arrived with reservations and still waited for over an hour on one visit. My second issue has to do with the bathrooms. When did design trump function in restaurant bathrooms? It's hard to find your way in, and then all the locks on the stalls are broken. Not pleasant.
But on to the food, which is the reason to visit Luma. Executive chef Todd Immel has put together an inspiring selection of dishes that are creative, comforting and trendy. His passion for food exudes through the ingredients he selects, the way he marries them together, and the way he presents them.
More than half of the menu is dedicated to quick bites, all enticing, which makes it difficult to choose. Keep in mind that the menu changes seasonally and according to availability, but here's a sampling: On one occasion we had clams "al forno" ($12), littlenecks floating in silky Mediterranean broth with wine, rosemary and pancetta. Chickpeas lent an earthy flavor that contrasted well with the oceany cockles.
Ravioli ($10) was an austere dish of six pillows stuffed with goat cheese, orange zest and fennel pollen. Eating them was like riding on the top of autumn while looking back to the summer.
Delicately gamey rabbit terrine ($12) was served cold with the traditional accompaniment of cornichons. In place of prepared mustard was a clever mustard ice cream that dispersed the piquant flavor wider on the palate.
Luma's fennel salad ($9) puts the pale green fennel bulb to delicious use. Licorice overtones were enhanced by tangy pomegranate and orange slices. The flavor could have stopped there, but to this colorful salad, they added aged pecorino cheese for a hint of nuttiness.
Could it get any better than this? We weren't sure until the entrees arrived. They were beautifully presented with a gentle touch. Food that manages to be pretty without looking too fussed over is most pleasing, and Luma is gifted in the art of presentation.
Diver scallops ($21) were plump and had a caramelized crust poised gracefully on tender, pristine flesh. Like a floral centerpiece, purple and red radish salad rested colorfully in the middle of the plate, graced by citrusy sauce. Rich olive tapenade, which at first seemed out of place, proved to enhance the flavor.
I had chicken "sous vide" ($17), made by vacuum sealing. I am fascinated with this high-tech-preservation-method-cum-gourmet-preparation that every top chef from Keller to Ducasse is taking for a spin. The flavorful chicken was tender and well-seasoned but nothing special. The accompaniment of creamy polenta and braised collard greens added much depth.
The duck ($20) took my breath away. With tender breast meat fanned out, this dish displayed a flavorful crust and pink flesh that yielded to a tender center. Accompanying this was a ring of butternut squash with a mystifyingly airy texture. A hint of lemon lingered on my tongue, leaving me wanting more.
The sirloin ($24), too, was deftly prepared. This slab of Niman Ranch's best was well-teamed with spicy watercress and creamy Gorgonzola, topped by dollop of port reduction.
The dessert were awe-inspiring, with a style all their own. The sweet corn pudding ($6) couldn't be more alluring. With macerated blackberries and a touch of fried polenta, the flavors lingered like a remembrance of something innovative yet familiar. Just like Luma itself.
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