Luna Blu Ristorante Italiano is tucked away on West Street in the uptown arts district of Annapolis. While the blue and yellow facade of Luna Blu’s exterior draws your eyes to the restaurant and provides an immediate hit of character, it is what’s created inside that makes the biggest impression.
A pair of cozy tables maintain residence in front of Luna Blu, offering a perfect spot to take in the sights and passersby as well as providing a good vantage point to gaze at murals on nearby buildings.
Once you step inside, that’s where the charm of the southern Italian coast overtakes you. The blue and cream interior, along with painted murals depicting scenery typical of the Amalfi Coast, are complemented by modern lamps hanging overhead that add the silver and sparkling touches that southern Italians are so fond of. Archways, candles and blue-glass accents add to the authentic vibe.
Luna Blu also pulls off something that’s hard to do in the restaurant business — it offers an experience, for most adults, that fits practically any occasion. Date night, check. Business meal, check. Casual stop to grab some great food, check. Sit outside and dine under the stars while a band plays nearby, check.
Although Luna Blu sits on a street and is easily visible, its atmosphere of hip classiness is one that might prompt the question from others — “Where did you find out about this place?”
“This is the feel I want the restaurant to have — small, intimate,” said Luna Blu owner Erin Dryden.
Dryden began working at the restaurant as it was opening in late 2001 and eventually became business partners with the owner and chef at the time, who was a native of Naples, Italy. Dryden bought him out about 16 years ago and has been at the helm since.
“Many of the dishes are traditional, but I have created quite a few of my own, and I put my own twist on a few as well,” Dryden said.
As far as the food is concerned, I’m going to be one of those people who insists on dessert first, even though that wasn’t the order of consumption on my recent visit.
Before arriving, I had glanced at the menu and had my heart set on the familiar tiramisu, or the restaurant’s house specialty, zabaglione, which is an egg custard creamed with marsala wine and served in a glass with strawberries. But, after the rest of my courses, I was in the mood, as was my date, for something light and refreshing.
What we settled on made us both miss southern Italy — limoncello sorbet. Limoncello is an aromatic Italian liqueur usually crafted from lemons originating in the Campania region of the country.
“This tastes like Amalfi, Sorrento and Capri,” said my date, taking the first sample.
I had to agree, and I’m not usually a dessert person. The lemon trees that you see in most every yard along the southern Italian coastal region came rushing through my mind as I neared the bottom of the sorbet, as did memories of wandering the streets of Positano with a beautiful limoncello-fueled buzz filling my head while gazing down at the Mediterranean Sea as Vespas scoot past.
I’m not one where food brings back memories like that — usually music does that for me — but I hope that Luna Blu’s limoncello sorbet comes back into my life, sooner rather than later.
Our server, Kerri, was knowledgeable, friendly and well-versed on each offering and its flavor profile. It’s a good sign when the staff has that much passion for its food.
I took advantage of Luna Blu’s four-course dinner special, which was an appetizer, salad, entree and dessert. If you have the appetite to handle it (portions are more American sized than European), the value is hard to beat at $45. These aren’t certain offerings, either. Your choices can be from anything available on the menu.
The salad’s house Italian dressing has a unique flavor profile with a tartness to it that I couldn’t place but enjoyed.
Both my appetizer and main course were chosen based on my love of seafood and to mimic the diet preferences of southern Italy. My appetizer was a meal of scallops served over a creamy polenta with a red pepper puree drizzling. The scallops were large and fresh, and the colors of the dish popped from the plate.
My entree – a pan-seared Australian sea bass served over asparagus and sauteed with basil, tomatoes and fresh buffalo mozzarella all over a garlic and olive oil base — was an example of less is more, a practice common in Mediterranean cooking where the fresh ingredients and the chef’s knowledge and creativity provide the full flavor. Minimal, if any, spices and other flavor enhancers are needed when the ingredients and sourcing are right. That was the case here and my Pinot Noir — Kerri had good advice here as well, picking one that wouldn’t be obtrusive to my meal selection — went perfect with the fish.
Dryden said Luna Blu’s bread and desserts are made in house, along with the various sauces. Dryden uses local farms as much as she can, but in some months, she’ll seek assistance from smaller specialty distributors for seafood or small Italian importers.
Although the atmosphere inside Luna Blu can get loud with the intimate surroundings, the seating is arranged where it’s not a distraction to your experience. In fact, the laughing and joyful sounds we heard during our recent visit just enhanced our nostalgia for “bella Napoli.” We also appreciated not feeling rushed, as the pace of presentation of our various courses felt just right.
Luna Blu also joins forces with some other West Street establishments to offer Dinner Under the Stars on Wednesday and Saturday nights during the warmer months. More seating is moved outside, and the street becomes one large dining area, complete with live music. As a bonus, wine bottles are 50% off on Wednesdays.
Dryden also prides herself on Luna Blu’s wine dinners, both in-house and virtual, with many of them directly benefiting various charities. The virtual wine dinners spawned as a way for Luna Blu to survive the pandemic. With Zoom becoming standard lexicon across households and businesses during COVID-19, Dryden thought about her in-house wine dinners and how Zoom could fit into that world.
“We could do a wine dinner like this,” recalled Dryden about bringing one of her restaurant’s popular events into folks’ homes.
Even after the pandemic, virtual wine dinners have evolved into a sustained, and popular, option. Diners can pick up food and wine, where they’ll get a QR code that allows them to watch a video presented by the wine maker or farm associated with what they’re drinking.
Unlike many restaurants in southern Italy, where dinner service doesn’t begin until 9:00pm, diners at Luna Blu, located at 36 West Street, don’t have to wait that long. Dinner hours are Sunday and Tuesday-Thursday from 5:00pm-9:30pm. Friday and Saturday dinner hours are 5:00pm-11:00pm. Lunch is offered Tuesday-Friday from 11:00am-2:30pm. Carryout pizza is available anytime Luna Blu is open.
“I really love being the local neighborhood restaurant,” Dryden said. “On most nights, I know most faces in the dining room and always love new ones too.”
Reservations are recommended and can be done on Luna Blu’s website at www.lunabluofannapolis.com. More information on wine dinners and other special events is also available at the site.