Grab your culinary passports for an eclectic trip around the world at Luna Red in San Luis Obispo.
When their Asian-themed Chow restaurant didn’t take hold in its downtown space, owners Robin Covey (also of Novo in San Luis Obispo) and Shanny Covey (also of Robin’s in Cambria) decided to close it, regroup, and reopen as Luna Red.
While the overall footprint is relatively unchanged, there’s an entirely different feel to the new restaurant, and Robin’s sense of style is again evident in the fun, sophisticated interior.
With eclectic details placed throughout and a warm palette of dark browns, burgundy and pale yellow, Luna Red has the welcoming feel of a friend’s chic living room — if your friend has the culinary talents of Shaun Behrens.
Now the executive chef at both Luna Red and Robin’s (since 2008), Behrens graduated from Arroyo Grande High School before going on to excel at the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco.
He then found his way to Higgins Restaurant and Bar in Portland, where he embraced its concepts of sustainability and local food. That experience made him a natural to work with the Coveys, who have been longtime champions of organic fare and Central Coast farmers markets.
The Luna Red menu promises “global tapas,” and delivers with a wide-ranging selection of tastes.
Though there are full entrées available, the emphasis on small plates is designed to encourage diners to try things and share, and “Robin describes our menu as being 75 percent recognizable and 25 percent curve ball,” Behrens said.
As a result, you’ll see possibly unfamiliar items like callaloo, kimchee and yuzu, but also “upscale comfort” versions of the very familiar.
There’s fish and chips made with Sapporo beer batter, a mac and cheese with aged cheddar, and housemade sweet onion rings that are pecan-crusted and served with a pink peppercorn crema.
Of course, all reaches of the globe get tapped for taste as well.
Asian flavors are represented with dishes such as sashimi and char siu (Chinese barbecue) pulled pork tacos, while a Mediterranean influence shows up in crab lasagna and carrot-cumin falafel balls. Latin America lends touches like skirt steak churasco, while American favorites might include pan-fried Idaho trout and a burger.
Luna Red also offers an enticing cheese and salumi (cured meats) menu. Cheeses range from local favorites Happy Acres and Rinconada Dairy to another dozen from domestic and international producers. Most of the salumi temptations such as tasso, capocollo, and even duck prosciutto are made in-house.
“We do a lot of cooking from scratch here,” Behrens said, and “there’s always the emphasis on sustainable, organic and seasonal.”
For example, he noted that “our current spring salad has sugar snap peas, pea sprouts, goat cheese and radishes, but our summer salad might feature something like grilled corn and fresh beans. We’ll shift cooking methods accordingly too, keeping things lighter in the summer, then moving towards braising in the winter.”
Luna Red will also apply its seasonal approach to beverages since the restaurant recently received a full liquor license and revamped part of its space to create a convivial bar area.
While it’s still a work in progress, Behrens noted that the new drinks menu will feature a lot of housemade ingredients such as vodkas infused with fresh fruits, plus a premium spirits selection showcasing cognacs, single-malt scotches and the like.
“We want to create a unique menu and experience throughout the restaurant,” Behrens said. “We take the ethical responsibility of feeding people very seriously, and we want to create a place for people to have fun, share food and gather around the table.”