Taste | Luna Modern Mexican Kitchen  

By: Chef Alex Rivas

Victoria Gardens is an enjoyable spot to shop around, enjoy the warm weather, and of course, eat well-prepared, imaginative dishes. When I found out my next Taste endeavor was to try out Luna Modern Mexican Kitchen, a new fixture in the VG outdoor mall, I was eager to find out more.




Always one to study before the big test, I soon found out that Luna Modern Mexican Kitchen is the second of its kind, and the original location in Corona has rave reviews and has also earned the Five Star Award by the Southern California Restaurant Writers Association year after year. I proceeded with confidence and excitement knowing I was about to taste what magic happened in the reputable kitchen.






As I walked in, the place had an ambiance I instantly meshed into with a beautiful "modern" look to it. Many hip Latin inspired paintings and inviting lighting arrangements stood out. I felt very welcomed and was offered a tour of the restaurant by the owner Francisco Perez. He explained that all the artwork was created by the same artist who helped furnish the original location in Corona, and I was excited to learn that this location would have similar roots.

I sat down and looked over the cocktail menu, as Mr. Perez shed light on how his margaritas are one of the most popular in the Inland Empire. In addition, LMMK has a tequila and mezcal selection like nothing I have seen before—from Blanco, Reposed and Añejo to Extra Aged Tequila and  Mezcal. Perez alone is the one who handcrafted the margarita mix for his restaurants. So, I had to try more than one, going with El Diablo Margarita and El Pepino Margarita—the two most favored by the owner and many guests.




It’s not every day you find an organic, house made margarita that tastes amazing, and I found at least two. El Pepino is muddled with cucumber, jalapeno and herbs, mixed with Milagro Tequila, and then poured over rocks—you can smell the freshness of the ingredients. The El Diablo Margarita is crafted with blackberries, sage, margarita mix and Milagro Tequila. The fresh execution of the chosen ingredients alone made me fall in love with this margarita, and the only sad part was it wasn’t served in a pitcher for me to consume the rest of the night.




As I waited for the margaritas, fresh tortilla chips and salsa were dropped at our table. They both tasted fresh and vibrant, which is characteristic of this duo that was made fresh in house. Looking over the menu, Mr. Perez offered a sample of a dish that was still being perfected in the kitchen before finding its place on the menu—how can anyone deny such a privilege to try something new? He presented a beautiful shrimp taco, shrimp beautifully cooked in jalapeno butter and chipotle, then layered in a warm corn tortilla, cabbage, orange-mango habanero sauce with a strawberry slaw on top. The sweetness paired lovely with the heat of the habanero and with the perfectly cooked shrimp. One is not nearly enough for anyone, and it was a great way to spark my taste buds for what was coming.




After looking at the menu, Francisco suggested that I start off with the Fresh Corn and Goat Cheese Tamale. I've had my share of corn tamales before, but nothing layered the way that it was presented to me at Luna. The corn tamale was warm and fresh. It was complimented nicely by the mild pungent goat cheese, and blended together by a creamy cilantro-pepita pesto sauce.

Next, we headed toward entrees. Luna has many different options to choose from for lunch and dinner, but fortunately Francisco guided the choices for me. He recommended two of the most popular dishes on the menu—the Drunken Salmon and Steak Adobado. Both dishes sounded beautiful, but the truth is in the taste, and waiting for these two dishes was proving to be difficult.





The Drunken Salmon came out beautifully plated and full of amazing fragrances. I was lucky to be able to resist long enough for a picture. The base starts with a yucca root huitlacoche cake, which was a touch sweet and flavorful. I was really intrigued by the huitlacoche, which is a type of mushroom that is considered to be the "Mexican Truffle." It has a good reputation for its pungent and earthy flavor, it grows on corn kernels and it’s very popular in Mexican food culture. On top of the yucca root huitlacoche cake is a perfectly grilled salmon, blackened and deglazed with tequila, cooked to perfection.

Drizzled with a garlic cream sauce and decorated with a balsamic reduction, The Drunken Salmon tasted as good as it looked. It is also paired with a fried plantains arroz blanco (white rice), which had a ton of flavor and natural sweetness from the plantain. On top of the salmon is a citrus tropical fruit relish, which gave it a sweetness to pair nicely with the creamy sauce and blackening spices. It was easy to see why the dish was very popular with customers both at the Corona location and the new Victoria Gardens location.





How can anyone else enjoy anything more after such a nicely crafted dish? Well, I didn't have to wait long to answer that. The Steak Adobado was served to me and the instantaneous smell of the Indian corn poblano ancho chile cinnamon emulsion was amazing. You could sense the cinnamon, but it wasn't overbearing, pairing nicely with the chiles. The base of the dish came with chorizo hash potatoes, which I could ask for a bowl of on their own. They reminded me of the fun I had with my children making breakfast chorizo con papas burritos when they were younger. The flat iron steak, one of my favorite cuts of beef, was cooked expertly. Almost cutting like butter, it was nicely seasoned and topped with poblano rajas. The entree itself held many flavors from the emulsion to the chorizo potatoes—I couldn't get enough.




I finished off with a dessert that the owner hand picked, again another popular item, Warm Butter Cake with salted caramel ice cream. Well the name should say it all, but just in case you can’t tell, it was amazing. The butter cake was soft but crunchy, simple but flavorful, and it only tasted more amazing when you scooped it up with a little salted caramel ice cream. Not a bad way to end a beautiful dinner, but most of all a great way to get my taste of some modern Mexican food.

I was very impressed with Luna Modern Mexican Kitchen—it pushed the boundaries a little to give you new and bold flavors not found in most places. You can tell just by speaking with the owner Francisco Perez just how much passion and love goes into the food, the decor, the drinks - into the entire dining experience. With a regional fusion of the greatest traditions in Mexican cuisine, infused with touches of Asian and other cuisine ingredients, one can tell that Luna will be pushing the boundaries of experimentation to create lovely and well crafted dishes in the near future.

I can't wait for the warmer weather to visit when Luna will have the custom made doors open and open up the interior of the restaurant - al fresco style. I imagine it would feel like a market restaurant down in Mexico enjoying amazing fair.


Luna Modern Mexican Kitchen is located at 7881 Monet Avenue in Rancho Cucamonga. For reservations and more information call (909) 334-4444 or visit www.lunammk.com.

Full disclosure: Meals and drinks were provided by Luna Modern Mexican Kitchen, but all opinions are 100% our own.


For more expert insight from Chef Alex Rivas, check out our other Taste features showcasing some of the best restaurants in the Inland Empire.


Dolce is located at 8821 Central Avenue in Montclair. Closed Mondays. For more information on hours call 909 399-3426, on the web at www.dolcebistroandbakery.com.


Full disclosure: Meals were provided by Dolce Bistro & Bakery but all opinions are 100% our own.  

- See more at: http://www.ieshineon.com/article/taste-|-dolce-caf%C3%A9--bakery/#sthash.6m0UK6kN.dpuf

Dolce is located at 8821 Central Avenue in Montclair. Closed Mondays. For more information on hours call 909 399-3426, on the web at www.dolcebistroandbakery.com.


Full disclosure: Meals were provided by Dolce Bistro & Bakery but all opinions are 100% our own.  

- See more at: http://www.ieshineon.com/article/taste-|-dolce-caf%C3%A9--bakery/#sthash.6m0UK6kN.dpuf