2 stars out of 5
Everyone has to eat sooner or later, so we might as well talk about it. Agree or disagree, your replies are valued.
Please allow me to preface this review with 2 comments:
1) The ambiance and feel of Bella Luna, was for me, awkward and more than a little bit dated.
2) It pains me to give any restaurant with heart a negative review. Their hearts are in the right place, the food and service? Not so much on the night we visited.
It was a Friday, and we met the in-laws for a birthday celebration. We had reservations for 7pm and it was a “dark and stormy evening” in Tucson (not something we get to say very often).
We arrived on time and had taken a moment in the car to read some of the evenings’ specials on-line. My better half commented on the special menu seeming a bit heavy. Little did she know how prophetic that observation would turn out to be. I don’t know if any of you recall Pee Wee Herman’s Saturday morning kids show with the secret word? Every time someone said the secret word of the day, everyone screamed and the secret word would drop from the ceiling dangling on a piece of string. The secret word for this restaurant: HEAVY.
We walked into what I can only describe now as one of those awful Vegas-styled Holiday Inn lounge act duos performing in the bar area. You know the kind, he plays an electronic keyboard that doubles as a karaoke machine and she sings along. I asked to be seated as far away as possible. I want to be clear here. Put him at a real piano and her singing some jazz standards with an occasional cool cover song and drop the quasi Karaoke and I would have loved them. They did not suck; their show did.
One other issue I had on arrival. When I place a reservation at your fine dining establishment, I like for you to not be apparently stunned when I actually show up. I wasn’t sure if it was that they were stunned I personally showed up, or if it was they are generally stunned when anyone shows up for a reservation. We stood for fifteen minutes while the hostess scrambled to turn a table for four into a table for four and then sat the five of us at it.
A clearly overwhelmed, under-trained and under-supported staff did their very best to accommodate us. I’d like to also say that our waitress deserved the 20% she received.
Some hints for Bella Luna Owners and managers:
Asking about getting a table drinks at a fine dining establishment without having provided the table with your wine list in advance is an amateur mistake and is indicative of a lack of training and support. It’s really stupid to not give me a list of things for me to spend money on. In most restaurants those are called the main, wine, and dessert menus.
Not having enough staff to help out or even wait on your reserved tables means you aren’t in the game to win. You failed your staff miserably and if I were them, I would ditch you.
One of the ways to placate customers that are waiting too long for a table is to ask them to please have a seat at the bar while you “make arrangements”. It takes the heat off of you and us, plus I am a lot more fun, generous, and hungry after a couple of drinks. Since you had no bartender behind the bar I think it might also be the reason you have no patrons at your bar. Zip, nadda, not a soul at the bar. Again, my experience in the hospitality industry tells me that bars are only effective at generating income when you have a bartender standing there ready to take an order and then the cash.
While we are on the subject of alcohol. When you bring wine to the table, there is no excuse for not having “red wine” glasses available. Of course, on a camping trip I will drink wine straight from the bottle, but we weren’t on a camping trip, were we?
Now lets discuss two more things that should never occur in a dining establishment that wants to get more than $20 per plate.
1) It is not OK to seat one table so close to another that your wait staff has to yell at us to be heard and has to do a complicated contortionist act in order to be able to place items on the table.
2) When it comes time to serve dessert it is not OK to plunk down a handful of silverware in the middle of the table for us to scrap over and then scurry off.
On this night, management was entirely missing. No one in charge was marshaling or supporting anyone.
Now lets talk about the food.
We ordered from the chef’s featured specials menu which was a cacophony of offerings. I always cringe at any special board that is a full menu unto itself. When diversity gives way to inconsistency, then variety can be a menu killer. On this night, the menu fell prey to the chef’s ambition.
Our various orders included encrusted Sea Bass, the encrusted Wyoming Buffalo, and I had the Lamb T-bone Steak. Buffalo is a particularly lean cut of meat and frankly requires to be served medium rare to rare. Since it brings very little if any marble fat to the game, it goes from medium rare to chewy when even slightly over cooked. In fact I believe that when placing Buffalo on a menu, the staff should be directed to tell the person that orders Buffalo well done to get up and get out. Why? Because it will not be tasty, it will be Shoey. Yes, that is the word Shoe with a Y on the end of it. (Its a technical culinary term). To under cook buffalo is to do a service to the animal that gave his life. The buffalo was ordered Medium Rare and arrived Shoey. Yuck.
Regarding everything else on our plates. Too complicated, not adjusted for taste, sour sauces, a hodge podge of non nonsensical combinations that exuded ambition and confidence, but lacked execution and good taste.
My Lamb T-bone Steak? An odd preparation that left me with a raw and yet somehow in a twist of irony, overdone lamb steak. The fish? Mediocre and too complicated. Let the ingredients speak for themselves! Enough with the layers of “what the hell is this?”
The other two entree’s, one a salad with Chicken were done well.
I ate at this establishment for a Father’s Day feast brunch a year or so ago. It was an eclectic preparation even back then and the variety of the buffet was pretty awesome if not a bit overwhelming. I had hoped to return to that an experience of one on one, sans the buffet and cattle call, and to spend a little time with food prepared not for the masses, but for me and my family. Sadly, I didn’t get that.
The Chef stopped by our table. He seems like a really nice guy who is a semi famous icon of the Tucson food world. He needs a vacation, a reset, and to come back with a less complicated approach. Relax man.
I’ll contemplate trying this place again at some point because the Chef seems to be talented. One meal does not make a restaurant but if I walk into that awful lounge act or you don’t have a bartender, I’ll never make it to the food. Me thinks no amount of outside comment will get through.
C for Effort
D for Ambiance
C for Service – But an A for the waitress.
C for the food taste
B for the presentation
D for not somehow screwing it up
Everything you need to know is at http://www.lunabellarestaurant.com/
This review reflects my personal opinion and experience of the place.