I lived in Santa Monica, Calif., for about a year in 2016. Had Lunetta and Lunetta All Day been around then, perhaps I would’ve stayed — and become a regular at this powerhouse duo of restaurants.
Situated in Santa Monica’s Pico neighborhood, Lunetta All Day opened in March 2017, while its counterpart, the dinner-only Lunetta, followed in June. Both are helmed by chef Raphael Lunetta, who not only brings mastery of American cuisine to his namesake restaurants but also imparts fresh California flavors using ingredients sourced from nearby farmers markets. And as a true Santa Monica local (he attended elementary school through high school in the city), Raphael knows these markets well.
I was first introduced to Raphael’s cooking at a September weekend brunch at Lunetta All Day, where the menu extends to breakfast, lunch and dinner as well. Just as intended, the eatery’s interior elevates the classic American diner, with black tufted-leather banquettes, bistro chairs, copper tables and lighting, subway tile, exposed ceilings and abundant natural light. But the best seats in the house are actually outside. Request a table on the picture-perfect patio (weather permitting), where green ivy climbs on millennial-pink walls, and blue-and-white chairs match the building’s awning.
The menu holds up, too: My partner and I shared the fried Jidori chicken breast paired with lemon ricotta pancakes topped with clarified butter and drizzled pure maple syrup, as well as the Memela (a bed of masa that’s dressed with mashed avocado, a sunny-side-up egg, cotija cheese, tomatillo sauce and pickled red onion).
But however delicious Lunetta All Day may be, next-door Lunetta is even more memorable. While attending a preview of Santa Monica Restaurant Week in mid-December, my co-worker Michelle and I perched on leather stools by the open kitchen, observing chef Raphael and his skilled culinary team as they made magic happen.
Beautifully plated dish after beautifully plated dish appeared before us, each a rainbow-colored masterpiece contrasting against the moody-chic decor of dim lighting, slate-grey walls, hardwood-and-penny-tiled flooring and leather and wood midcentury furniture. There was a bright-red ahi tuna tartare (the most generous portion of such I’ve ever seen) paired with crusty bread; a cluster of rock shrimp ceviche sitting pretty on housemade lime chips; and a heap of vegetables whose range of colors made me think of a painter’s palette.
Michelle and I both agreed that Lunetta’s crispy duck breast, accompanied by quince, pomegranate seeds and beets, was the shining star of the meal — a verdict that became clear as soon as we both eyed an untouched plate of the dish a couple seats down. We may have looked sheepish when we asked for it to be passed down, but minutes later, not a single morsel remained.
Note: Santa Monica Restaurant Week runs from Jan. 8-14, 2018, and will center around the ingredient of pomegranate, which can be found during wintertime at each of Santa Monica’s four farmers markets. More than 30 restaurants, including Lunetta, are participating.