Bella Luna Opens on Market Square!

Yesterday marked the opening of Bella Luna at 15 Market Square. Thanks to my friend Buddy Ray, who, after catching the Blueplate Special at WDVX offered to treat me there. He thereby became the official sponsor of this blog post.

Entrance to Bella Luna on opening day

Bella Luna is the project of chefs Donna Parang and Christin Love. Christin greeted me at the door, a bit curious about the shabby looking guy taking pictures. She was perfectly gracious and offered to help in any way. Later when I returned, I met Donna who was equally pleasant. Donna and Christin are both graduates of the Culinary Institute at the University of Tennessee. Their venture is focused on simple Italian food in the tradition of northern Italy, which is the area where Donna’s maternal family originates.

Much about the restaurant is still in development. Our lunch was taken on the first lunch shift, so not everything has been worked out. A full bar will open soon and the small stage at the rear, which some of you may remember from the space’s Abodes’ incarnation, will feature live music, with jazz mentioned as a likely possibility. The seating area is very spacious and open and would likely accommodate a small space for the dancing enthusiasts among us.

After walking beneath a painter and his ladder at the door, the signs that the restaurant is still in development were few. The seating, like the food, is intended to be simple. The lighting was lovely, though it was daylight out, so I’m not sure what it is like in the evening. The walls have room for art to be added as they grow. Our waiter was attentive, though not intrusive, and seemed very comfortable with the menu. The combination of lighting, menu font and my fading eyesight (I forgot my reading glasses) rendered the menu a blur and he was very kind to read a good bit of it to me. The menus are temporary, so that may be improved upon later or, more likely, I need to remember my reading glasses, though that brings up my fading memory.

Piadina con Gamberi Gigliati e Pesto

The food? Very good and very reasonably priced. Buddy Ray ordered the Piadina con Gamberi Gigliati e Pesto $7 (Grilled Shrimp and Pesto Flatbread) which is “House-made flatbread with pesto, roasted red pepper, and grilled shrimp topped with arugula and herb greens.” It was very good. The flatbread had an excellent taste and consistency, crisp and easy to bite. The tastes of the ingredients on top mixed wonderfully and there was a spice on the shrimp which served them very well. If I had a small criticism, it would be that the shrimp could have been more flavorful. Being from the Gulf Coast I’m a bit picky about my shrimp. I’d love for them to purchase shrimp from the Shrimp Dock, but I don’t know if they sell commercially.

Taglatelle con Pomodoro

I ordered the Taglatelle con Pomodoro $7 (Pasta with Tomato Sauce) which is “House made tagliatelle with pomodoro sauce and fresh basil.” It was also excellent. I had them add sausage for a little extra spice and that made a great difference. I’m not sure what kind of sausage it was, but it, the pasta and the sauce were excellent.

I did wonder about bread, which wasn’t brought to the table. I was told that fresh bread is coming, but the details weren’t worked out before the opening. The potential vendor is a local baker who is a friend of the chefs and with whom downtown residents and customers of the Market Square Farmer’s Market and Just Ripe are very familiar. His bread will be a great addition. Christin and I agreed he needs to open a bakery downtown.

Interior of Bella Luna on opening day

We concluded our meal with cups of espresso ($3.95 per cup), which is something I got into the habit of doing in Paris and will probably have to limit now that I’m back in my normal financial mode. It was, like everything else, very good. True to the theme of the restaurant, it was Lavazza Espresso, which is Italian coffee also served at the French Market.

Our final bill was run up a bit by the fact that the espresso was pricey and I added sausage to my dish, but otherwise lunch may be eaten at Bella Luna for a fairly modest price by downtown standards. With a little art, open bar, jazz on the stage and fresh bread, this restaurant is set to be an excellent addition to downtown. Please go by and give them a try.