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Friday, April 19, 2013

A swing and a miss from Loca Luna

Posted By on Fri, Apr 19, 2013 at 7:50 PM

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Menu writers are a lot like real estate agents: their job is to make something sound incredible, even if that means being a little over-optimistic with the truth. This can result in something commonly known as "your mileage may vary" — the advertised "man cave" turns out to be an unfinished basement or the "hand-made aioli" is just Blue Plate mayo with some garlic salt tossed in. Still, most mid-range and upscale places around town do a pretty good job at being honest about their dishes, keeping the hyperbolic flourishes to a minimum. Once in awhile, though, one of these menu descriptions really goes above and beyond what the finished product entails — which brings me to Loca Luna.

Now Loca Luna has been recognized by both the local and national press as a great neighborhood restaurant, and it was this reputation that drew me to the dark dining room off of Cantrell Road. I ran my eyes over the impressive menu until they lighted upon a dish custom made for my tastes: Lobster-Crab Stuffed Trout, which combines three of my favorite things all in one dish. Promising a "crumbled lobster-crab cake" on top of a butterflied trout, I ordered quickly and couldn't wait to tuck in to my stuffed fish, steamed vegetables, and roasted red potatoes.

What arrived wasn't quite what I expected. Sure, there was a trout filet on the plate, its edges dry and crunchy from overcooking and tasting a little more fishy than fresh water fish should taste. The "lobster-crab cake" was certainly crumbled over (some of) the top, but I couldn't discern any actual lobster and/or crab meat in the mass of mushy seasoned bread crumbs. I've honestly seen crab cakes with more seafood in those Chinese buffet crab cakes that are mostly just mush stuffed inside a crab shell. A thin, almost unnoticeable butter and caper sauce finished everything off with a sad bit of palest yellow. On the plus side, the steamed vegetables were excellent, and so were the mashed potatoes that I was mistakenly given in place of the roasted ones I ordered.

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Our second dish of the night, the Pork Tenderloin, was better than the fish, but not by much. The pork medallions suffered the same fate as the trout: they were overcooked. The mustard-cream sauce poured over them was far better than the sauce on the fish, though, and served to loosen up the pork. My dining companion was kinder to the dish than I, so there may be an audience out there for overcooked pork that Loca Luna is doing a fantastic job of servicing, but for my money — and given the menu's price point, a good bit of it — the dish just lacked anything that made it stand out at all.

I don't know how much day-to-day work Chef Mark Abernathy has with his restaurants, but my experience with Loca Luna was a far cry from the good experiences I've had with Abernathy's other restaurant Red Door. After a meal of such mediocrity, I wonder if maybe the kitchen was having an off night, or if there was somebody new on the grill. But when your main courses consist of the basic "meat and two veg," you better be dead sure that the protein shines, because steamed vegetables are on countless menus around the country, and "choice of potatoes" isn't much of a choice at all — even if the kitchen gets them right.

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