Luna Rossa offers classic Italian fare

Where: 2355 Vanderbilt Beach Road, Naples

Contact: 566-7408

Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday to Saturday, 4 to 9 p.m. Sunday

Cuisine: Italian

Beverages: Full bar, good wine list heavy on the Italian wines

Atmosphere: Casually elegant

Service: Professional and friendly

Prices: Appetizers less than $15, main courses less than $25

Recommended dishes: Spaghetti alla puttanesca, mussels Fra Diavolo, tiramisu

Verdict: If you are looking for good, traditionally prepared Italian dishes, try Luna Rossa of Naples.

Because I was raised in Italy, when it comes to Italian restaurants I tend to expect more from them. I also tend to be unimpressed with fake recipes you would never find around Italy. What I find to be most important for an Italian restaurant is the quality of certain ingredients — tomatoes are a perfect example — because when your dishes feature only a few basic components they all have to be of great quality if you want the result to shine.

That’s why I found Luna Rossa of Naples to be a solid provider of tasty, authentic Italian fare. Traditional dishes are prepared just as they are prepared in Italy with top-notch ingredients. The owner, Antonio Scotto Di Perta, hails from Napoli, the original Naples, in Italy. A culinary school graduate, he has studied and worked around Italy most of his life and he takes pride in ordering many of his ingredients directly from the motherland.

I first tasted his food, and was impressed by it, years ago, when he owned Luna Rossa restaurant and pizzeria at Miromar Outlets in Estero. After selling it to its current owners he decided to move south, and last year he opened Luna Rossa of Naples, a more upscale version of his original restaurant.

Located in a rather new plaza on the corner of Vanderbilt Beach and Airport-Pulling roads, Luna Rossa of Naples has a quite impressive dining room, with a nice wooden bar, comfortable booths and giant, wall-sized reproductions of famous paintings by Italian and Dutch masters. The menu — from appetizers to desserts — offers many well-prepared classics. My only complaint would be that sometimes the bread in the bread basket comes out of the kitchen slightly overcooked, an easily fixed detail that won’t spoil your dinner.

Clams Luciano ($9.95) is a great starter. The clams are nothing like you eat in most places because they are imported whole and frozen from Italy. Smaller and tastier than the variety available on this side of the ocean, they are cooked in a white wine and garlic broth and served with crunchy toasted bread.

The mussels Fra Diavolo are also a good way to start your meal. Small, cold-water mussels are cooked in a spicy tomato sauce and served with bread crostini. You may notice that the tomato sauce actually tastes like tomatoes; that’s from the San Marzano tomatoes that are imported from Italy. Even there, they are considered the Rolls Royce of tomatoes for their distinct, fresh flavor. I’m not a mussel lover, but these have a pleasantly mild flavor and I find myself easily eating half of the serving, mopping up the spicy tomato sauce with the warm toasted bread.

The menu also offers a good number of pasta dishes that range from very simple spaghetti with marinara sauce to more grown-up options like lobster ravioli in a creamy vodka sauce. The spaghetti alla puttanesca have always been a favorite of mine and I order it whenever I see it on a menu. Luna Rossa’s rendition is as close as it gets to traditional, and it makes my taste buds sing.

A good puttanesca starts by melting an anchovy in hot olive oil and then cooking a spicy tomato sauce in the same oil. Capers and black olives finish off this fiery pasta dish, giving it a hint of pleasant saltiness. The portions are humongous, but that’s not a problem when a dish is so spot-on that you will gladly reheat it the next day for lunch.

Main course options include a variety of fish, chicken, veal and beef dishes including classics like saltimbocca — veal scaloppini cooked in a marsala and sage sauce and topped with Prosciutto — and vegetarian dishes such as eggplant Parmesan. We found the chicken Francese ($11.95) — a lightly breaded chicken breast pan fried in a lemon sauce — and the veal piccata —veal scaloppini sautéed with white wine, lemon and capers — to be particularly enjoyable choices.

For dessert nothing beats a good tiramisu, and Luna Rossa’s is creamy and rich, just as it should be.

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