NAPLES — We’re all looking to save a few bucks. We drive a few extra blocks to save a penny a gallon on gasoline. We check the grocery store ads to see what meat is buy-one-get-one-free.
Local restaurant owners know us well. You can’t leaf through an issue of Showcase without finding a few dozen restaurants offering dining deals. From special prix fixe menus to two entrees for the price of one, the restaurants are doing anything and everything to get you to spend your evening with them.
But are these deals worth it? We decided to find out. We’re starting a new occasional series exploring these specials and pitting similar deals against each other to see which brings you the best dinner for your dollar.
This week it’s Cafe Luna versus Luna Rossa in a battle of Italian restaurants offering two dinners plus a bottle of wine for $30. We took another couple with us to sample as much as possible at each restaurant. Here’s what we found.
■ ■ ■
2355 Vanderbilt Beach Road, #156, 566-7408
2355 Vanderbilt Beach Rd, Suite 156, Naples, FL
What you get: An appetizer to share, a house salad, bottle for two people and an entree. Luna Rossa’s entire menu is now available under the deal. There are a handful of appetizers to choose from, but at least two dozen entrees. Each day the chef offers up a handful of specials that are offered for a $5 upgrade. The salad can be upgraded. And the wine can be upgraded as well, but unless you have super-exacting standards for your vino, don’t bother. We tried a white and a red and both were very pleasant.
The food: Luna Rossa delivers big time on the food, especially the entrees. We sampled a magnificent lobster ravioli in a light vodka sauce that would have cost the price of admission in many restaurants. The veal francaise, recommended by our server was delicately breaded but never got soggy. The baked ziti had a fresh-tasting tomato sauce and was loaded with melted cheese. And the linguine with clam sauce had just the right balance of sweet wine and briny clams in the sauce.
The salads aren’t very memorable, but you aren’t going to want to fill yourself up on greens because the portions (besides the lobster ravioli) were very generous. The appetizers weren’t as plentiful, but it was actually kind of refreshing to see a place that didn’t overwhelm you on the first course. The bruschetta could have toasted just a minute longer, but the mussels marinara was pretty close to perfect.
Overall: Despite having an incentive to upsell you (to increase the automatic 20 percent gratiuity), the waitstaff isn’t overzealous. And the food is every bit as good as pricier Italian joints in town.
■ ■ ■
467 Fifth Ave. S., 213-2212
Photo by KELLI STANKO // Buy this photo
467 5th Avenue South, Naples, FL
What you get: One entree from a choice of six, plus a bottle of wine and bread. From the start the deal at Cafe Luna, which is known for its magnificent pizzas, is a bit more limiting. There are another eight options to choose from if you want to upgrade in price by $5. You can upgrade the wine for $10, again we didn’t see any need for the extra expense. Salads are extra; so are any appetizers you might want to try.
The food: The choices weren’t overwhelming. We stuck with the spirit of the deal and didn’t upgrade. And what we did choose wasn’t brilliant. The chicken penne with broccoli was so bland as to be avoided. The penne bolognese lacked rich meaty flavor you expect from the sauce. The eggplant parmesan was a decent rendition of the dish, crispy on the outside with a soft center. And the spaghetti with meatballs was pretty much like your grandmother made it, if she wasn’t a gourmet chef, filling without bowling you over.
Overall: Our server definitely laid it on thick about upgrading our orders, pointing out each and every opportunity to go outside the spirit of the deal. And while it wasn’t bad for what you paid, the meal just seemed a little lacking.
■ ■ ■
Luna Rossa hands down. Not only did it offer more food for your money, it offered better food for your money. Every dish was worth the price and then some. If you are looking for an affordable date or an excuse to go out with another couple, definitely put Luna Rossa near the top of your list. Cafe Luna just couldn’t compete with Luna Rossa, but compared to other places on Fifth Avenue South, the meal was still a decent bargain.