“All four elements were happening in equal measure – the cuisine, the wine, the service, and the overall ambience. It taught me that dining could happen at a spiritual level.”
A group of us were invited to dinner at Café Luna, 451 Main St., Suite 8, in Placerville (Creekside Place). The occasion was to discuss May as zinfandel month with Paul Bush, owner and winemaker at Madroña Vineyards.
I arrived a bit early and talked with General Manager Gary J. Herrera, who was busily getting the place ready for dinner, while chef David Van-Buskirk was in the kitchen doing the same thing.
“You know we have been open for 17 years,” said Herrera. “And remember, we ran the Vineyard House in Coloma for 15 years.”
I was surprised, everything seems like yesterday. But I did remember the Vineyard House and the chicken and dumplings that were so good.
Café Luna specializes in changing menus featuring different meats, seafood, pastas and vegetarian items that are in season and fresh, along with its famous “Hot-Head” (adventures in heat and chiles) specials.
We ordered from the Spring 2012 menu and decided to try different things and share so we could experience a number of dishes with the Hillside and Signature zinfandels from Madroña. We started out with baked brie that came with house-made chutney, roasted heads of garlic and toast, along with some great sautéed mushrooms.
Then we ordered the following: butternut squash and mushroom lasagna — roasted butternut squash, pan-sautéed mushrooms, basil and mozzarella, ricotta and Parmesan cheeses layered with pasta sheets, baked until golden and bubbly and topped with toasted amaretti crumbs and herbs; lamb shanks — Australian-raised lamb shank dry-marinated in aromatic spices, slow braised with red wine, tomatoes and herbs until falling-off-the-bone tender, then sprinkled with a traditional “gremolata” made with fresh lemon zest, garlic and parsley; rib-eye steak — a 14 ounce rib eye, marinated in extra virgin olive oil and garlic, flame-broiled to your specification, and topped with a drizzle of roasted garlic/Parmesan oil; and pork osso bucco — meaty pork shanks, sautéed and simmered in a rich tomato and California zinfandel wine broth until falling off the bone tender, topped with a fresh gremolata and served with polenta (or mashed potatoes). And, the meals came with fresh salad and mixed fresh (and perfectly cooked) vegetables.
This is what you call dining, not eating, but dining. The food was all absolutely wonderful and we shared dishes and tested all the wines, giving our comments to the winemaker.
I was really full, but do remember that they ordered two desserts, one of which was a chocolate puddle cake that was decadent. I had a couple of bites but I really couldn’t even finish my dinner, let alone have dessert.
That is just a sample of the fantastic food that is served at Café Luna and the menu lists a lot more. And, it is served in wonderful deep plates in a delightful atmosphere where people are obviously enjoying their food (it was a Thursday evening and the place was full). And, if you have a special diet, they will do their best to adjust the dish for you.
They have 150 wines on their wine list with over 20 available by the glass. And, the menu lists a recommended wine with each dish.
I don’t know anything more to say about the ambiance, the fantastic food and wonderful service. If you are not one of their many regulars, you really should give them a try.
Café Luna is open Tuesday through Thursday from 5 until 9 p.m. and on Friday and Saturday from 5 until 9:30 p.m. I would recommend reservations — call 530-642-8669.
If you would like to read their menu, get recipes and enjoy their wonderful sense of humor in their monthly newsletter “Rants and Raves,” go to cafelunatics.blogspot.com. It is a lot of fun and full of good information.