On a recent weekday evening in sparsely populated dining rooms, we started with the Luna antipasto sampler of 10 items ($9.99). There were winners crumb-stuffed roasted red peppers and mushrooms, and spicy marinated olives. There were also a couple of disappointments, including arancini (deep-fried rice balls that look like little oranges) and caprese, which in spite of Hanover tomatoes and homemade mozzarella, needed olive oil and fresh basil. Other appetizers and salads are standard offerings.
It is customary in Italy to have a pasta/soup course before the second plate, as the entree is called. Because most Americans prefer pasta as the main dish rather than as a course to precede it, the servings in most restaurants are large and priced accordingly. We mistakenly ordered a family portion for two, which was handsomely presented in a large copper skillet, and we had more than half to take home. Summery penne caprese and the promise of Hanover tomatoes sounded perfect for an August evening, but apparently the kitchen had run out of fresh basil, which deprived the dish of an essential and defining flavor.
The entrees ($13.99-$19.99) consist of chicken, veal, beef and shrimp. Chicken cacciatore (hunter style) is an Italian menu cliché, and although it tries something different, Pasta Luna doesn't improve on it. Thin slices of chicken sauté were buried under a mound of diced tomato sauce (suspiciously like the caprese sauce) without other distinguishing characteristics. Filet mignon Giambotta sounded interesting: filet mignon, chicken, sweet sausage, mushrooms, peppers and potatoes. But if you are imagining something like a mixed grill, which I did, you will be disappointed. It was closer to a stir-fry, with bits of each of the components. Unfortunately, the thin-sliced beef was well-done and uncharacteristically tough for beef tenderloin.
The luncheon menu has many of the same pastas and entrees, but expands the salad offerings and adds sandwiches to the list. We liked the shrimp parmigiana on focaccia perfectly cooked large shrimp with a melt of cheese and a touch of tomato on tender bread. A pasta dish of tough penne with eggplant in a rather acidic tomato sauce instead of the advertised Hanover tomatoes was disappointing.
The servers bring a dessert tray ($5.49 each) to the table with most of the day's offerings. Be tempted and try one. The two we chose were very good. The chocolate-dipped cannoli were not exactly the light dessert that might follow a heavy meal, but these were delicious, as was a wedge of cherry torte with a dollop of whipped cream.
The menu suggests that Pasta Luna specializes in rustic Neapolitan cuisine; the Web site proclaims Northern Italian. They are not the same thing. It's difficult to tell if the management has a real point of view or is playing to the crowd. It takes some of both to make a true and lasting success. The new offspring perhaps needs to master basics and consistency if it's going to fill all those tables. SPasta Luna South
($$)5000 Commonwealth Centre Parkway, Midlothian
Lunch: Monday-Friday 11 a.m.-3 p.m.; Saturday-Sunday 11 a.m.-2 p.m.
Dinner: Monday-Thursday 4:30-10 p.m.; Friday 4:30-11 p.m.; Saturday 4-11 p.m.; Sunday 4-9 p.m.
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